Categories: World

LGBT Indians can now live true to their individuality

In a landmark ruling today, India’s Supreme Court struck down a 157-year-old ban on gay sex.

The ban, Section 377 of the Indian penal code, outlawed any sex that goes “against the order of nature.” The law dates to 1861 when the country was under British colonial rule. The law is interpreted as a ban on all anal and oral sex, though it is generally used to prosecute men for having sex with other men.

“No one can escape from their individuality,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said reading from the judgment.

“We have to bid adieu to prejudices and empower all citizens,” Misra continued, who spoke on behalf of four concurring judges.

In their judgments, the justices said that homosexuality was “natural” and that the Indian Constitution was not a “collection of mere dead letters” and should evolve with time, reported The New York Times.

But in many ways, India remains a deeply conservative country, and staunch religious groups on several sides — Hindu, Muslim, and Christian — condemned the ruling.

“It’s shameful,” said Swami Chakrapani, president of All India Hindu Mahasabha, a conservative Hindu group. “We are giving credibility and legitimacy to mentally sick people.”

Human rights activists from around the globe are saying they hope this decision will reverberate around the world.

“This ruling is hugely significant,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told the Times. It could set a precedent for nations with similar colonial-era laws to end their “discriminatory, regressive treatment” of gay and transgender citizens.

The Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb added, “We hope this decision in the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country will set an example and galvanize efforts to overturn similar outdated and degrading laws that remain in 71 other countries.”

“This historic legal ruling sets free from criminalization almost one-fifth of the world’s LGBT+ people. It is the biggest, most impactful gay law reform in human history. I hope it will inspire and empower similar legal challenges in many of the 70 countries that still outlaw same-sex relations, 35 of which are member states of the Commonwealth,” said Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation. “Ending the ban on homosexuality is just a start. There are still huge challenges to ending the stigma, discrimination, and hate crimes that LGBTs suffer in India.”

The monumental decision in India could significantly influence upcoming court cases and galvanize decriminalization efforts in other British Commonwealth countries — including in neighboring Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Photo | India Pride Parade 2017, courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation

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