Gay sex no longer a crime in India

Casey GreeneSep 08, 2018

Homosexuality has a tangled history in India, and some of Hinduism's most ancient texts are accepting of gay sex.

It was like a scene from a Bollywood blockbuster as staff at one of New Delhi's most luxurious hotels performed an elaborate dance routine in the lobby to celebrate a historic Supreme Court ruling on gay rights. Outside the court, campaigners cheered and some broke down in tears as the decision was announced.

Strangers handed flowers to members of the community, some waved banners while others celebrated quietly, overcome with emotion. A few distributed candies in celebration.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the age-old colonial law was an anachronism in today's modern times and the verdict restores the fundamental rights and negates discrimination based on sexual orientation. "It's a long journey we need to tread".

Chief Justice Dipak Misra had made it clear right at the beginning that the top court would restrict itself to the legality of section 377 that penalised gay sex with a prison term.

In a unanimous verdict, the five-judge Constitution Bench decriminalised Section 377 IPC with regard to consensual gay sex, asserting that it was "irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary" and that it violated fundamental rights to equality, life with dignity, personal liberty, non-discrimination, privacy and expression under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.

The law banned "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" - which was widely interpreted to refer to homosexual sex.

While reading out the verdict on Section 377, Justice Rohinton Nariman, who was part of the 5-member bench in the case, pointed out that since the law came into force in 1861, less than 200 people have been prosecuted under Section 377. That eventually led to its repeal in 2009. Thursday's verdict came in response to a number of petitions by gays and lesbians who challenged the constitutional basis of the 2013 ruling.

"Marriage is the most sacred part of our culture, many cultures actually", he said.

Members of the LGBT community hugged each other and cried as news of the verdict spread.

The Lalit hotel's Keshav Suri, one of the court's petitioners, entered the lobby to rousing applause, gave his husband a peck on the cheek and declared: "It is time to celebrate".

"Private acts between consenting adults is something which no government should have criminalized as unfortunately we have done", he said.

Quoting an instance of a petitioner who qualified for the IAS exams but chose to forgo his dream for fear that he would be discriminated against on the ground of his sexuality, Justice Chandrachud says, "providing support to homosexual clients to become comfortable with who they are and get on with their lives" will be more important.

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