India decriminalizes homosexual acts in landmark verdict

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India's Supreme Court has legalised homosexuality and gay sex and decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, holding out promise of a new dawn in personal liberty and sexual orientation.

According to a recent report of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), there are eight countries in which homosexuality can result in a death penalty, and dozens more in which homosexual acts can result in a prison sentence.

The judgment has led to widespread joy among the LGBT community and several other activist groups.

The country's LGBTQ community is hopeful that the controversial ban, which India's top court reinstated in 2013 after four years of decriminalisation, will be struck down on Thursday.

The court said in 2009 that Section 377 is a violation of fundamental rights in the constitution.

Justice Chandrachud said, "Why do politicians sometimes hand over power to judges and we see that happening in the Supreme Court everyday".

The bench comprised Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

However, then BJP President Rajnath Singh, months ahead of coming into power, was quoted in December 2013 as saying, "We will state (at an all-party meeting if it is called) that we support Section 377 because we believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act and can not be supported". The co-author of a homophobia report tells CNN 30 of almost 50 former British colonies still have the colonial-era anti-LGBT laws on the books; Al Jazeera notes nearby Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh still consider homosexuality illegal.

Justice Chandrachud ruled that "Members of the LGBT community are entitled, as all other citizens, to the full range of constitutional rights including the liberties protected by the Constitution" and that the LGBT people are "entitled to the benefit of an equal citizenship, without discrimination, and to the equal protection of law".

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But in January this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge by a clutch of high-profile Indians who said the law created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the world's largest democracy.

Although the law was seldom enforced, the gay community said it opened them to harassment and discrimination, and made it impossible for them to seek justice if they were victims of violence, rape or other crimes like blackmail.

"Historical judgment! So proud today!"

CJI Misra, while reading out the judgement, said: "Any consensual sexual relationship between two consenting adults ─ homosexuals, heterosexuals or lesbians ─ can not be said to be unconstitutional", India Today reported.

"Any discrimination on this basis is unconstitutional".

Many activists like Suri say that gay marriage and equal inheritance rights for gay couples will be the ultimate equality prize.

The court said sex with animals, which also forms a part of Section 377, would remain a criminal offense.

The bench, which agreed with the submission of Rohatgi, also said it would examine the fundamental right to life and sexual freedom.

"The right to live with dignity has been recognised".

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