On Sept. 6, 2018, India’s Supreme Court struck down a Victorian Era ban on homosexuality. In June, the law in question, Section 377, was challenged in the Supreme Court and after months of deliberation, the court reached a unanimous decision to overturn the ban. In addition to simply overturning the ban, the Court went as far as granting complete equal protection under the law to members of the LGBTQ community.
Section 377 was put in place by British Colonial rulers; the main goal of the law was to prevent actions that were “against the order of nature”, which, at the time of its implementation, included homosexuality. According to the New York Times, Section 377 was first successfully challenged in 2009 with a New Dehli court ruling that the law could not be applied to situations where both parties could consent. This success was short-lived. A case in the Indian judiciary fought for by various socially conservative groups in 2013, argued that any decision regarding Section 377 should be decided in the legislature and not the judiciary, stating that only a “minuscule” portion of the population was affected by overturning the ruling.
After the 2013 overturning, the number of complaints filed under Section 377 increased. According to the New York Times, in 2014, 1,148 complaints were filed, and by 2016, this number had nearly doubled with roughly 1,600 of those complaints being sent to trial. That same year, five members of India’s LGBTQ community filed a writ petition, a petition for the case to be reconsidered in court, on the basis that their rights to equality and liberty were violated. Although it started as five members, by the time the case was heard by the court, the number of complainants had grown to over two dozen.
This decision was viewed differently throughout the subcontinent. Many members of the LGBTQ community in India rejoiced and expressed their love publicly for the first time in their lives, including places as public as on the steps of a famous courthouse in Bangalore. In Mumbai, the nation’s commercial capital, activists were showered in confetti to celebrate the groundbreaking victory.
This excitement was not universal among Indians. India is a very socially conservative nation with a long-standing tradition of arranged marriages and a caste system that is still very influential in the everyday lives of Indians. Although the ban grants legal protection, social acceptance is still a ways away. Many Indians are still being shunned by their families and turned away from their friends.
Although there is still prejudice, many members of the Indian LGBTQ community think that this decision is a step in the right direction toward acceptance. Although the ruling skillfully makes no mention of marriage, as marriage is an extremely important aspect of Indian culture and mentioning it might have made Indians lose support for the ruling entirely, it gives hope to members of the LBGTQ community that marriage equality may not be too far off. At the same time, many activists believe that enough hasn’t been done yet. They argue that for there to be full equality under the law they have to have easy and open access to adoption and marriage, especially since Hinduism, India’s primary religion, is not anti-gay marriage. Overall, there is a great amount of hope that decriminalizing homosexuality is the first step that had to be taken to move toward a more accepting India.