India took a major step today in protecting the rights and lives of its LGBTQ community when the country’s supreme court made a landmark ruling that decriminalized homosexuality.
So far, 17 Commonwealth nations (India now included) have overturned the archaic colonial-era laws that have largely contributed the marginalization, oppression, and anti-gay sentiments that pervade in countries once controlled by British rule today.
In July of last year, it was reported that 72 countries in the world criminalize same-sex relationships and in 8 of those countries, homosexuality can result in the death penalty.
The ruling comes after years of petitioning by LGBTQ rights activists. The law was once overturned by the high court in New Delhi in 2009 thanks to the Naz Foundation which is committed to raising awareness of HIV/AIDS.
Time reported that even though the law was overturned in 2009, an uproar from religious groups led to the Supreme Court later re-criminalizing same-sex relationships in 2012.
New petitions were filed in 2016, and today, the 1861 law that criminalized homosexuality, Section 377, was successfully overturned again hopefully for the last time.
It was argued that Section 377 both contributed to anti-gay stigmas and prevented people who contracted HIV/AIDs from seeking treatment due to fear of being ostracized or penalized in India.
“Even after a person’s infection is identified, they are reluctant to go to government hospitals to take the confirmation test,” Rohit Sarkar, Senior Program Officer at India HIV/AIDS Alliance, told Time. “Because there was not only societal discrimination but also discrimination by the law.”
Anurag Kalia, one of the recent petitioners to the Supreme Court, told Time that the ruling will make it easier for members of the LGBTQ community to report harassment or assault to the police.
Many are in favor of the new ruling but there is expected backlash again from religious groups and organizations.
Time reports that LGBTQ activists in India are now working towards marriage equality and property rights and making sure that today’s ruling is not, once again, reversed.