July 2, 2009
Excerpts from the Landmark Ruling from the Delhi High Court, and a Link to the Full 105-Page Decision
With a big thank you to journalist Rex Wockner of San Diego, we are able to bring you these excerpts and a link to the full text of today's landmark ruling from the Delhi High Court. The court found that India's sodomy law violated sections 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Here are some excerpts (followed by a link where you can read the entire decision).
Section 377 [of the Indian Penal Code ("IPC")] targets the homosexual community as a class and is motivated by an animus towards this vulnerable class of people. . . .
The criminalisation of private sexual relations between consenting adults absent any evidence of serious harm deems the provision's objective both arbitrary and unreasonable. The state interest "must be legitimate and relevant" for the legislation to be non-arbitrary and must be proportionate towards achieving the state interest. If the objective is irrational, unjust and unfair, necessarily classification will have to be held as unreasonable. The nature of the provision of Section 377 IPC and its purpose is to criminalise private conduct of consenting adults which causes no harm to anyone else. It has no other purpose than to criminalise conduct which fails to conform with the moral or religious views of a section of society. The discrimination severely affects the rights and interests of homosexuals and deeply impairs their dignity. . . .
Section 377 IPC has the effect of viewing all gay men as criminals. When everything associated with homosexuality is treated as bent, queer, repugnant, the whole gay and lesbian community is marked with deviance and perversity. They are subject to extensive prejudice because what they are or what they are perceived to be, not because of what they do. The result is that a significant group of the population is, because of its sexual non-conformity, persecuted, marginalised and turned in on itself. . . .
The inevitable conclusion is that the discrimination caused to MSM [men who have sex with men] and gay community is unfair and unreasonable and, therefore, in breach of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. . . .
We hold that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex and that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not permitted by Article 15. . . .
The impugned provision in Section 377 IPC criminalises the acts of sexual minorities particularly men who have sex with men and gay men. It disproportionately impacts them solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. The provision runs counter to the constitutional values and the notion of human dignity which is considered to be the cornerstone of our Constitution. Section 377 IPC in its application to sexual acts of consenting adults in privacy discriminates a section of people solely on the ground of their sexual orientation which is analogous to prohibited ground of sex. A provision of law branding one section of people as criminal based wholly on the State's moral disapproval of that class goes counter to the equality guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 under any standard of review. . . .
In the present case, the two constitutional rights relied upon i.e. 'right to personal liberty' and 'right to equality' are fundamental human rights which belong to individuals simply by virtue of their humanity, independent of any utilitarian consideration. A Bill of Rights does not 'confer' fundamental human rights. It confirms their existence and accords them protection. . . .
129. The notion of equality in the Indian Constitution flows from the 'Objective Resolution' moved by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on December 13, 1946. Nehru, in his speech, moving this Resolution wished that the House should consider the Resolution not in a spirit of narrow legal wording, but rather look at the spirit behind that Resolution. He said, 'Words are magic things often enough, but even the magic of words sometimes cannot convey the magic of the human spirit and of a Nation's passion . . . .
130. If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of 'inclusiveness'. This Court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as "deviants" or 'different' are not on that score excluded or ostracised.
131. Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non- discrimination. This was the 'spirit behind the Resolution' of which Nehru spoke so passionately. In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.
132. We declare that Section 377 IPC, insofar it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The provisions of Section 377 IPC will continue to govern non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex involving minors. By 'adult' we mean everyone who is 18 years of age and above. A person below 18 would be presumed not to be able to consent to a sexual act. This clarification will hold till, of course, Parliament chooses to amend the law to effectuate the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report which we believe removes a great deal of confusion. Secondly, we clarify that our judgment will not result in the re-opening of criminal cases involving Section 377 IPC that have already attained finality. We allow the writ petition in the above terms.
Click here to read the full decision. Download Delhi High Court Ruling on Penal Code Section 377
Hat tip to Rex Wockner and congratulations to the lawyers in India who brought this case.
July 2, 2009 | Permalink
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