In a landmark case, the Supreme Court of India became an Asian leader in LGBT+ rights with a unanimous ruling on Sept. 6 that struck down the provisions of a centuries-old law that criminalized sodomy. This comes as a climax in a contentious modern history in which the law has been challenged several times, and was famously upheld by India’s highest court back in 2013. The law originated in 1861 under the British Raj and banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” and allowed for imprisonment up to a life sentence.
“[The ruling is] the first step on the long path to acceptance of the diversity and variegated hues that nature has created,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he gave the court’s official statement, to the cheers of LGBT+ advocates. However, while the Justices announced their enthusiastic support for not just the change to the law but for wider cultural shifts towards tolerance, politicians, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, remained silent on the issue. A strong outcry against the ruling has come from a coalition of Christian, Muslim and Hindu conservatives, exemplified by Swami Chakrapani, president of All India Hindu Mahasabha.
“We are giving credibility and legitimacy to mentally sick people,” Chakrapani said. Regardless, the weight of the decision will be felt heavily across the country.