For 150 years, LGBT people in India have had to live with the threat of spending their lives in jail for having sex. On Thursday, a year after ruling that sexual orientation is a privacy right, India’s Supreme Court struck down the dehumanizing colonial-era law in a landmark ruling legalizing gay sex.
The ruling means that LGBT people will receive full constitutional rights and protection from sexual orientation-based discrimination, the New York Times reports. Chief Justice Dipak Misra called the law “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.”
CNN reports that while Hinduism “has traditionally maintained a flexible, non-prescriptive view of sexuality,” under Section 377, in the 1860s, the British imposed a law that found homosexuality “against the order of nature” with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. More recently, however, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party, sought to keep the law, calling homosexuality a “danger to national security.”
Dozens of countries have colonial-era “anti-sodomy” laws in the books thanks to the British. India’s groundbreaking decision could prompt other countries to strike down similar laws: Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times that the ruling may help other countries end “discriminatory, regressive treatment” of LGBT people across the world.
However, this is just the first step to attaining equal rights for LGBT people in India. As one activist told CNN:
“The next step is to start looking at issues of rights. Right now, it is just decriminalizing,” Anjali Gopalan, founder of the Naz Foundation, which has spearheaded the fight against Section 377, told CNN.
“The right that every citizen of the country should have access to and should not be taken for granted. Like the right to marry, the right to adopt, the right to inherit. Things that no one questions and that are clearly denied to a certain section of citizens.”
Across India, LGBT people and allies are celebrating the historic ruling. “I can’t even explain how I am feeling right now,” Bismaya Kumar Raula told CNN. “The long battle has been won. Finally we have been recognized by this country.”