INDIA’S Supreme Court has decriminalised homosexual sex in a landmark judgment for gay rights, reports The Guardian UK.
A five-judge bench of the country’s highest court ruled on Thursday that a 160-year old law banning sex “against the order of nature” amounted to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and was unconstitutional.
“Criminalising carnal intercourse under section 377 Indian penal code is irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary,” said the chief justice, Dipak Misra, in his ruling, part of a series of judgments that quoted from Oscar Wilde (“The love that dare not speak its name”), Leonard Cohen (“From the ashes of the gay / democracy is coming”), William Shakespeare (“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”), and the German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (“I am what I am, so take me as I am”).
“Social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by individuals today,” Misra said, “and it is only when each and every individual is liberated from the shackles of such bondage … that we can call ourselves a truly free society.”
“History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights,” stated another judge on the bench, Indu Malhotra.
The announcement of the decision drew loud cheers from a crowd gathered on a lawn outside the Supreme Court. India has one of the world’s largest populations of gay people.
“Today is a historic day,” said Anand Grover, one of the lawyers who led the case, on the lawn outside the Supreme Court in central Delhi. “The future is for everybody to be included, to realise their fundamental rights of equality, privacy, dignity, etcetera. That is what the court has stated and given directions that this be made available and known to everybody.”
The decision appears to mark the end of a fraught path to legalising homosexuality in modern India. Early cases filed in 1994 and 2001 bounced back and forth for years between higher courts reluctant to rule on the issue.
In 2009, the Delhi high court quashed the cornerstone of section 377 of the Indian penal code, finding that applying its ban on “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” to consenting adults breached the rights to life, liberty and equality enshrined in the country’s constitution.
That decision was overturned four years later by the supreme court, which argued that the 1861 law that came to be associated with homosexual sex had been used so infrequently – fewer than 200 times, according to the judgment – and against such a “minuscule fraction” of the population that it could not be said to violate Indians’ constitutional rights.
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