India’s Supreme Court on Thursday legalised consensual sexual relations between adults of the same gender as it partially struck down a British-era law that criminalised homosexuality.
Members of the LGBT community held tearful celebrations in cities across the South Asian nation of 1.25 billion people as the historic verdict was read out.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the Indian Supreme Court delivered its unanimous verdict in four separate opinions.
“The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,” said chief justice Dipak Misra as he quashed the cornerstone of Section 377, a law introduced by British rulers in 1861.
“Any discrimination on the basis of sexuality amounts to a violation of fundamental rights,” he added in the ruling, which added India to a list of more than 120 countries where homosexuality is decriminalised.
Activists had been fighting the ban since the 1990s, suffering several court reverses before Thursday´s verdict.
The Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2009, but the Supreme Court reinstated the ban in 2014 after an appeal by religious leaders.
According to official data, 2,187 cases under Section 377 were registered in 2016 under the category of “unnatural offences”. Seven people were convicted and 16 acquitted.
The Indian government had opposed ending Section 377 but said ahead of the hearing that it would leave the decision to the “wisdom” of the Supreme Court.
It had warned, however, that judges should not change other aspects of Indian law, such as the right to marriage.