Sex

India makes history by decriminalising gay sex

India is the most populated place on earth and today in a historic decision, India’s Supreme Court ruled that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights. After weeks of deliberation in the Supreme Court and decades of struggles by gay Indians, India’s chief justice, Dipak Misra, told a packed courtroom that the colonial-era law known as Section 377 was “Irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary. We have to bid adieu to prejudices and empower all citizens.”

Although public opinion in India’s biggest cities has been in favor of scrapping the law, there remains strong opposition among religious groups and in conservative rural communities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said very little about gay rights, despite the conservativeness of his governing Bharatiya Janata Party on some social issues.

First introduced in 1861, colonial-era Section 377 law, stated that gay sex and homosexual acts were considered criminal activities, arguing that, by engaging in these acts, LGBT people were living “against the order of nature”, the archaic legislation carried a high tariff, with gay sex punishable with up to life imprisonment.

A bid to repeal section 377 was initiated in 2001 and was batted between court and government until 2009 when the Delhi High Court ruled in favor of decriminalization. Several political, social and religious groups then mobilized to restore the law and in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down the High Court ruling. Anti-section 377 activists then submitted a “curative petition” – a formal request to review an earlier court order perceived as a “miscarriage of justice” – and in 2016 the Supreme Court decided to revisit its ruling.

LGBT activist Harish Iyer told the BBC: “I’m absolutely elated. It’s like a second freedom struggle where finally we have thrown a British law out of this country… I think the next step would be to get anti-discrimination laws in place, or anti-bullying laws.”

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