India Has Overturned A 157-Year-Old Law That Made Gay Sex Illegal

Photographed by Stephanie Gonot.
For more than 150 years, gay people in India could be sentenced to life in prison under a law that penalised having any kind of sex "against the order of nature," which had always been interpreted to include sex between two cisgender women and sex between two cisgender men. Effectively, it was illegal to be gay in India or, at least, to act on same-sex sexual desires. But that changed Thursday, when India's Supreme Court struck the law down.
Dipak Misra, India's chief justice, called the archaic law "irrational [and] indefensible" in his ruling, according to The Guardian. Another judge, Indu Malhotra, said that history owes an apology to the LGBTQ+ community in India for withholding basic human rights for so long. LGBTQ+ activists in the country have been challenging the law since at least 1994, when one of the first court cases was filed. And only five years ago, in 2013, the Supreme Court chose to uphold the gay sex ban after the law had been ruled unconstitutional in The Delhi High Court.
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“[Today's] judgment closes the door on a dark chapter of Indian history. It marks a new era of equality for millions of people in India. The remarkable victory today is a milestone in the three decade old struggle by the LGBTI community and their allies in India," Asmita Basu, Programmes Director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement shared with Refinery29.
The decision to overturn the gay sex ban was unanimous among India's five-judge Supreme Court, and sparked celebrations among LGBTQ+ activists who were waiting outside the court for the judgement. Many said that they were expecting a positive decision, according to CNN, but were still shocked when they heard the ruling. Activists have since taken to Twitter to celebrate, using the familiar hashtag #LoveWins.
The celebratory tweets also included people who pointed out why this ruling is about more than being able to have sex. It also allows gay and queer people in India to be open about who they are without fear. For the first time, LGBTQ+ people can tell complete strangers that they have boyfriends or girlfriends without the threat of imprisonment.
But, just as the LGBTQ+ movement in the US's work wasn't finished when marriage equality passed in 2015, India's LGBTQ+ community still has other rights to fight for. "Section 377 as it stood, violated basic human rights standards on equality, privacy and dignity," Basu said in the statement. "While today’s judgement answers the constitutional invalidity of Section 377, the struggle for the rights of LGBTI people continues, including in relation to marriage, adoption or inheritance."
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