India’s Supreme Court gets another chance to decriminalize same-sex relationships

The SC is set to reconsider the criminalization of consensual same-sex relationships between adults, in response to a writ petition with significant ramifications for addressing the full range of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity in India said the ICJ.

The Indian Supreme Court commenced hearing the case, Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, which is joined with five connected cases, today, concerning the constitutional validity of the criminalization of consensual same-sex relations between adults under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in response to writ petitions filed by several LGBTI individuals.

Section 377 criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Section 377 is a relic of the British colonial penal code and is replicated in several former British colonies even though it was it was finally repealed in Northern Ireland in 1982, following repeals in Scotland in 1980 and England and Wales in 1967.

“Hopefully, the Indian Supreme Court will follow and build upon the strong precedent set by the Delhi High Court in the Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi that declared Section 377 and the criminalization of consensual same-sex relationships to be in violation of the Indian Constitution as well as international law in 2009,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General.

“There are real grounds for optimism as the Indian Supreme court as recently as August 2017 handed a landmark judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and Another v. Union of India and Others that declared the right to determine one’s sexual orientation and gender identity as core to the right of privacy,” he added

The ICJ has documented how section 377 has created a climate in which arbitrary arrest, extortion, harassment and blackmail of LGBTI persons in India thrives.

“The Indian judiciary’s decision to read down section 377 in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, which was then overruled by the Supreme Court, has been used by several other jurisdictions, such as Trinidad and Tobago as support for putting an end to criminalization of same-sex relationships. So the outcome of this petition before the Indian Supreme Court is of significance not just to people in India, but to the fight against discrimination around the world,” Zarifi said.

“But even a good decision by the Indian Supreme Court will not end the discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity in India. It’s time for the Indian Parliament to repeal section 377 in its entirety and engage in a wide-ranging review to consider which gaps, if any, need to be filled, for example with respect to acts constituting rape or other sexual offences,” he added.


Maitreyi Gupta (Delhi), International Legal Adviser for India, t: +91 7756028369 ; e: maitreyi.gupta(a)

India-Supreme Court and Section377-News-press release-2018-ENG (full story with additional information, in PDF)


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