'History owes LGBTQ people an apology': What the 377 judgement said

The Constitutional bench concurred in its judgement, but four of the judges wrote their own judgements, barring Justice Khanwilkar.
'History owes LGBTQ people an apology': What the 377 judgement said
'History owes LGBTQ people an apology': What the 377 judgement said

The Supreme Court in a historic verdict on Thursday read down Section 377, which criminalised consensual same sex relations as well as any sexual act other than heterosexual penile-vaginal sex. The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, concurred in its verdict but four of the judges wrote their own judgement.

CJI Dipak Misra read out his and Justice Khanwilkar’s judgement first, followed by Rohinton Nariman, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

Here is what the Constitutional Bench said while decriminalising homosexuality:

Chief Justice Dipak Misra

  • Respect for individual choice is the very essence of liberty under law and, thus, criminalizing carnal intercourse under Section 377 IPC is irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.
  • Under our constitutional scheme, no minority group must suffer deprivation of a constitutional right because they do not adhere to the majoritarian way of life. 
  • We are of the view that Section 377 IPC takes within its fold private acts of adults including the LGBT community which are not only consensual but are also innocent, as such acts neither cause disturbance to the public order nor are they injurious to public decency or morality.
  • Any display of affection amongst the members of the LGBT community towards their partners in the public so long as it does not amount to indecency or has the potentiality to disturb public order cannot be bogged down by majority perception.  
  • Section 377 IPC does not meet the criteria of proportionality and is violative of the fundamental right of freedom of expression including the right to choose a sexual partner. 
  • Section 377 IPC also assumes the characteristic of unreasonableness, for it becomes a weapon in the hands of the majority to seclude, exploit and harass the LGBT community. It shrouds the lives of the LGBT community in criminality and constant fear mars their joy of life. They constantly face social prejudice, disdain and are subjected to the shame of being their very natural selves. Thus, an archaic law which is incompatible with constitutional values cannot be allowed to be preserved. 
  • The veil of social morality cannot be used to violate fundamental rights of even a single individual, for the foundation of constitutional morality rests upon the recognition of diversity that pervades the society.  Any discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation would entail a violation of the fundamental right of freedom of expression.
  • Section 377 IPC, so far as it penalizes any consensual sexual relationship between two adults, be it homosexuals (man and a man), heterosexuals (man and a woman) or lesbians (woman and a woman), cannot be regarded as constitutional.
  • Section 377 IPC in its present form 164 has resulted in an unwanted collateral effect whereby even “consensual sexual acts,” which are neither harmful to children nor women, by the LGBTs have been woefully targeted thereby resulting in discrimination and unequal treatment to the LGBT community and is, thus, violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • Section 377 IPC subjects the LGBT community to societal pariah and dereliction and is, therefore, manifestly arbitrary, for it has become an odious weapon for the harassment of the LGBT community by subjecting them to discrimination and unequal treatment.  
  • Consensual carnal intercourse among adults, be it homosexual or heterosexual, in private space, does not in any way harm the public decency or morality. Therefore, Section 377 IPC in its present form violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Justice DY Chandrachud

  •  There is an unbridgeable divide between the moral values on which it is based and the values of the Constitution. What separates them is liberty and dignity. We must, as a society, ask searching questions to the forms and symbols of injustice. Unless we do that, we risk becoming the cause and not just the inheritors of an unjust society.
  • Lethargy of law is manifest yet again. Charter of morality made homosexuals illegal. Civilization has been brutal. Law has imposed on LGBT community immorality. 377 exacts conformity on moral grounds.
  • Tragedy and anguish which 377 inflicts must be remedied. Democratic as it is - our Constitution allows dissent.
  • That we can do by saying, as I propose to say in this case, that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have a constitutional right to equal citizenship in all its manifestations. Sexual orientation is recognised and protected by the Constitution.
  • Section 377 of the Penal Code is unconstitutional in so far as it penalises a consensual relationship between adults of the same gender. The constitutional values of liberty and dignity can accept nothing less.
  • The Union government states that it leaves a decision on the validity of Section 377 ‘to the wisdom of this Court’. Implicit in this is that the government has no view of its own on the subject … We would have appreciated a categorical statement of position by the government, setting out its views on the validity of Section 377.
  • Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) has made ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ an offence. This provision, understood as prohibiting non-peno vaginal intercourse, reflects the imposition of a particular set of morals by a colonial power at a particular point in history. A supposedly alien law, Section 377 has managed to survive for over 158 years, impervious to both the anticolonial struggle as well as the formation of a democratic India, which guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens.
  • Indian citizens belonging to sexual minorities have waited. They have waited and watched as their fellow citizens were freed from the British yoke while their fundamental freedoms remained restrained under an antiquated and anachronistic colonial-era law – forcing them to live in hiding, in fear, and as second-class citizens.
  • But this case involves much more than merely decriminalising certain conduct which has been proscribed by a colonial law. The case is about an aspiration to realise constitutional rights. It is about a right which every human being has, to live with dignity. It is about enabling these citizens to realise the worth of equal citizenship. Above all, our decision will speak to the transformative power of the Constitution. For it is in the transformation of society that the Constitution seeks to assure the values of a just, humane and compassionate existence to all her citizens.
  • To deny the members of the LGBT community the full expression of the right to sexual orientation is to deprive them of their entitlement to full citizenship under the Constitution.
  • Sexuality cannot be construed as something that the State has the prerogative to legitimize only in the form of rigid, marital procreational sex. Sexuality must be construed as a fundamental experience through which individuals define the meaning of their lives. Human sexuality cannot be reduced to a binary formulation. Nor can it be defined narrowly in terms of its function as a means to procreation. To confine it to closed categories would result in denuding human liberty of its full content as a constitutional right. The Constitution protects the fluidities of sexual experience.
  • It is difficult to right the wrongs of history. But we can certainly set the course for the future.

Justice Rohinton F 

  •  Parliament is also alive to privacy interests and the fact that persons of the same-sex who cohabit with each other are entitled to equal treatment.
  • The present definition of mental illness in the 2017 Parliamentary statute makes it clear that homosexuality is not considered to be a mental illness.
  • The rationale for Section 377, namely Victorian morality, has long gone and there is no reason to continue with 74 - as Justice Holmes said in the lines quoted above in this judgment - a law merely for the sake of continuing with the law when the rationale of such law has long since disappeared. 
  • ... it is clear that Section 377, insofar as it applies to same-sex consenting adults, demeans them by having them prosecuted instead of understanding their sexual orientation and attempting to correct centuries of the stigma associated with such person.
  • When it is found that privacy interests come in and the State has no compelling reason to continue an existing law which penalizes same-sex couples who cause no harm to others…it is clear that Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 have all been transgressed without any legitimate state rationale to uphold such provision.
  • “...persons who are homosexual have a fundamental right to live with dignity...such groups are entitled to the protection of equal laws, and are entitled to be treated in society as human beings without any stigma being attached to any of them. 
  • We are also of the view that the Union of India shall take all measures to ensure that this judgment is given wide publicity through the public media, which includes television, radio, print and online media at regular intervals, and initiate programs to reduce and finally eliminate the stigma associated with such persons.
  • Above all, all government officials, including and in particular police officials, and other officers of the Union of India and the States, be given periodic sensitization and awareness training of the plight of such persons in the light of the observations contained in this judgment.

Justice Indu Malhotra

  • A classification which discriminates between persons based on their innate nature, would be violative of their fundamental rights, and cannot withstand the test of constitutional morality.
  • Sexual orientation is innate to a human being. It is an important attribute of one’s personality and identity.
  • LGBT persons, like other heterosexual persons, are entitled to their privacy, and the right to lead a dignified existence, without fear of persecution. They are entitled to complete autonomy over the most intimate decisions relating to their personal life, including the choice of their partners. Such choices must be protected under Article 21. The right to life and liberty would encompass the right to sexual autonomy, and freedom of expression.
  • Section 377 affects the private sphere of the lives of LGBT persons. It takes away the decisional autonomy of LGBT persons to make choices consistent with their sexual orientation, which would further a dignified existence and a meaningful life as a full person.
  • Sexual orientation is immutable, since it is an innate feature of one’s identity, and cannot be changed at will. The choice of LGBT persons to enter into intimate sexual relations with persons of the same sex is an exercise of their personal choice, and an expression of their autonomy and self-determination.
  • History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality.

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