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India court rules gay sex not a crime
2018-09-06

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On Sept. 6, India's supreme court unanimously struck down a colonial-era law that made same-sex acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison—a landmark victory for gay rights in this country.

The five justices ruled that the law was designed to harass members of India's gay community and resulted in mass discrimination. The law, Section 377, held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature.

Nine years ago, a New Delhi High Court declared Section 377 unconstitutional; however, three Supreme Court justices overturned that decision in 2013.

"This monumental decision by India's Supreme Court finally ends a deeply discriminatory law that violated the dignity and most fundamental human rights of LGBTQ people in India," said Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb in a statement. "We congratulate the plaintiffs in this case and the LGBTQ advocates who worked tirelessly for decades to achieve this tremendous victory."

—Windy City Times

India Overturns Colonial-Era Law Criminalizing Same-Sex Relationships

WASHINGTON — Today, the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ), America's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer ( LGBTQ ) civil rights organization, celebrated a historic decision by the Supreme Court of India overturning Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — a British colonial-era law dating back to 1861 that criminalized consensual sexual relationships between adults of the same sex.

"This monumental decision by India's Supreme Court finally ends a deeply discriminatory law that violated the dignity and most fundamental human rights of LGBTQ people in India," said HRC Global Director Ty Cobb. "We congratulate the plaintiffs in this case and the LGBTQ advocates who worked tirelessly for decades to achieve this tremendous victory. 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largest democracy and second most populous country will set an example and galvanize efforts to overturn similar outdated and degrading laws that remain in 71 other countries."

"The soul of this nation had been bruised and battered because of this archaic law," said Harish Iyer, a 2018 HRC Global Innovator and Indian LGBTQ advocate who was involved in the legal challenge to Section 377. "Today, we have reaffirmed our right to our bodies and our right to love. The rainbow flag is proudly hoisted in our hearts and minds as we celebrate this victory."

In July, the Supreme Court of India held four days of hearings on six cases involving Section 377. While previous governments had argued in favor of retaining the harmful law, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government announced at the hearings that it would defer to the Supreme Court in deciding whether to decriminalize same-sex relationships between consenting adults. Today's verdict comes at the end of almost two decades of legal battles which saw parts of Section 377 criminalizing same-sex conduct overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009 then reinstated by the Supreme Court in 2013.

With a population of more than 1.3 billion, India is the world's largest democracy and was the most populous of 72 countries that criminalize same-sex relations. In up to 10 countries, same-sex relations may be punishable by death. The Indian Supreme Court's decision could significantly influence upcoming court cases and galvanize decriminalization efforts in other British Commonwealth countries — including in neighboring countries Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore.

—From a Human Rights Campaign press release

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

India: Supreme Court Strikes Down Sodomy Law, Upholds Rights to Privacy, Non-discrimination for LGBT People

(London, September 6, 2018) — India's landmark Supreme Court decision that criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct is unconstitutional is a major victory for human rights and the LGBT people's rights to privacy and non-discrimination in the world's second most populous country, Human Rights Watch said today.

The decision on September 6, 2018 strikes down language in Section 377 of India's penal code, a relic of British colonial rule that punishes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" with 10 years to life in prison.

"The Supreme Court decision means that at long last same-sex relations are no longer a criminal offense in India," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The court has affirmed that no one should be discriminated against for whom they love or what they do in the privacy of their bedroom."

The judges unanimously ruled that consensual same sex relationships are no longer a crime, deeming Section 377 "irrational, arbitrary and incomprehensible."

The court's ruling affirmed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in India are entitled to the full protection of both India's constitution and international human rights law, and that laws that treat people as second-class citizens based on their real or perceived sexual orientation have no place in modern India.

The ruling follows a long struggle for the decriminalization of same-sex conduct in India. In 2001, the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an organization working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health, filed a case before the Delhi High Court, contending that Section 377 violated both the Indian constitution and international human rights law, and that it impeded the organization's public health outreach. In 2009, the court issued a ruling in support of the petitioners.

But the Supreme Court overturned that decision in 2013, ruling that amending the law was the responsibility of the legislature. The reversal had devastating consequences for LGBT Indians who had come out as a result of the 2009 ruling. While it led to only a few documented arrests, LGBT people in India continued to suffer widespread discrimination, sanctioned by a discriminatory law. They remained vulnerable to violence and extortion, including by the police.

Activists in India filed new petitions asking the Supreme Court to review its ruling. In 2016, the court, after initially refusing to hear the review petitions, admitted the curative petitions reviving the legal battle for the repeal of the law. The petitions were referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench for detailed hearing. In January 2018, after issuing important rights-affirming rulings on privacy and on transgender equality, the court announced that it would revisit the case. In July, a five-judge bench began hearings that included new petitions filed by LGBT people.

The ruling also has significance internationally, Human Rights Watch said. Section 377 of India's penal code, first implemented in 1860, served as a template for similar laws throughout much of the former British empire. Colonial governors elsewhere in Asia and Africa used the language of Section 377 in dozens of statutes criminalizing so-called "unnatural offenses" — generally understood to mean anal sex, or sodomy — while in the Caribbean, the British used different language, imposing laws against "buggery."

Over 70 countries, including many in the Commonwealth, still criminalize consensual same-sex relations. Kenya and Botswana, both of which inherited versions of the Indian penal code during the colonial period, currently have cases pending before their courts that would also strike down laws outlawing consensual same-sex conduct. Other countries in which courts have struck down sodomy laws in recent years include Trinidad and Tobago (2018), and Belize (2015).

The decriminalization of same-sex conduct will not immediately result in full equality for LGBT people in India, Human Rights Watch said. Transgender people in particular, including hijra communities, face discrimination in employment, housing, and health care. A draft law on transgender persons, introduced in 2016, does not go far enough in protecting trans people's rights to legal recognition according to their gender identity.

"Striking down Section 377 is a momentous step that will resonate around the world in communities that are fighting for equality," Ganguly said. "But like other countries, India has significant work to do to ensure that the rights of people who have been long marginalized on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity are fully protected."

—From a Human Rights Watch press release

For more Human Rights Watch Reporting on India, please visit:

www.hrw.org/india .

For more Human Rights Watch Reporting on LGBT rights, please visit:

www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights .


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