In a landmark decision for LGBTQ rights and the community in India, the country’s highest court has decriminalised gay sex.

Five Supreme Court judges struck down the colonial-era Section 377 on Thursday, a ban on gay sex that was rarely applied to consenting adults, but used to stigmatise the LGBTQ community.

“We have to bid adieu to prejudices and to empower all citizens,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said while reading the judgment, according to NDTV.

The decision ends a long battle to decriminalise gay sex in India, which began when the British enacted the law in 1861.

Indian members of the LGBTQ community celebrate outside the Supreme Court.
Indian members of the LGBTQ community celebrate outside the Supreme Court.

Image: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

Under Section 377, the penalty was a 10-year jail term, although it has “hardly ever been used in cases of consenting adults.” Opponents said the law “served as a weapon for police abuse,” and called for it to be scrapped.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled the law should be removed, but this was overturned four years later when the Supreme Court deemed the matter was up for parliament to decide.

Since then, the law faced numerous challenges, but gathered speed when five high-profile petitioners put their names against the law, saying Section 377 left them victims of jail, abuse, extortion and torture.

Across Indian cities there was an outpouring of joy when the Supreme Court finally made its decision.

The United Nations in India said in a statement online that it hopes the ruling “will be the first step towards guaranteeing the full range of fundamental rights to LGBTI persons.”

“We also hope that the judgment will boost efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons in all areas of social, economic, cultural and political activity, thereby ensuring a truly inclusive society,” the statement reads.

“The focus must now be on ensuring access to justice, including remedy; effective investigations of acts of violence and discrimination; and effective access to economic, social and cultural rights.”

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