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India’s supreme court begins landmark hearing for the decriminalisation of gay sex

Ella Braidwood July 10, 2018
An LGBT pride parade in New Delhi on November 12, 2017. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

An LGBT pride parade in New Delhi in 2017 (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty)

The Indian supreme court has started a key hearing on homosexuality in the country – with celebrities set to speak about how a 1861 law banning gay sex has blighted their lives.

The court will also hear numerous petitions arguing for gay sex between consenting adults to be legalised, reports the Guardian.

However, this is the first time the court is set to hear from notable individuals, with planned speeches from a famous chef, a hotelier and a classical dancer.

Gay sex is punishable with life imprisonment in the country. It has been illegal in India since Section 377 of an 1861 law – introduced under British colonial rule – banned sexual activity “against the order of nature,” including with another man or woman.

In 2009, the high court in Delhi ruled that the1861 law violated human rights, and legalised homosexual sex between consenting adults.

However, in 2013, the supreme court reversed the hight court ruling – making gay sex illegal again – and outraging LGBT+ rights campaigners across the world. It also meant that Indians, who had come out since 2009, were left open to discrimination.

In February 2016, the supreme court said it would reconsider its judgement, which is why this hearing is being held.

LGBT+ rights campaigners at a Pride parade in Chennai on June 24, 2018. (ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

LGBT+ activists are hopeful that the supreme court will decriminalise gay sex following the hearing.

Anjali Gopalan, founder of the Naz Foundation, an NGO working to prevent HIV/AIDS in New Delhi NGO, which lodged the first petition against the 1861 law in 2001, told the Guardian that the moment “feels right” to overturn the ban on gay sex.

“The momentum has built up for this moment. We have a clutch of petitions from people from all walks of life. We have celebrities giving their personal testimony,” Gopalan said.

“Then we have had an important ruling recently by the courts upholding privacy. And we have seen a shift in recent years, more people coming out to take a stand. The gates have opened, as it were, and you can’t close them now.”

Gay sex has been illegal in India since 1861.(Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

Another LGBT+ rights campaigner, Row Kavi, told the Guardian that the momentum for change was “unstoppable.”

He explained the impact of the supreme court overturning the 2009 ruling, saying: “We got calls from parents, concerned about what would happen to their children. We got calls from HR managers in companies asking if the police might come and arrest employees who had come out.”

The campaign for decriminalising gay sex also been bolstered by a supreme court ruling in August last year, which ruled that privacy, including a person’s sexuality, was a fundamental right.

Speaking to the Guardian,Suraj Sanap, the supreme court lawyer for this ruling, said: “The supreme court’s ruling on privacy last year was critical. It was a de facto overturning of its own earlier 2013 ruling against gay sex.

“That means there is really no leeway for the judges to argue otherwise than for gay sex to be legalised.”

More: 1861, Asia, India, India, supreme court

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