India’s top court has legalized gay sex in the world’s second-most populous country in a landmark decision that partially struck down a 158-year-old colonial-era law.
After a decades-long legal battle, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India has diluted Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which was first enacted in 1860 and ranks gay sex alongside bestiality as a crime “against the order of nature.”
Reading out the judgment in a packed courtroom on Thursday, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the law violated the right to equality enshrined in the constitution and was being used as a ‘weapon of discrimination’.
The Supreme Court’s decision will have a wide-ranging economic and social impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens across the country of 1.3 billion people. The ruling will prevent discrimination of gay employees and their partners in India, where activists say members of the LGBTQ community are singled out and blackmailed.
The move to overturn a law implemented by the British before India’s independence in 1947 comes after a Hong Kong court ruled in July allowing visas to the spouses of gay expatriate workers in Asia’s main financial hub. The move has put pressure on other Asian capitals to make themselves more attractive in the race for global talent. Australia legalized same-sex marriage late last year.