Where Love is Illegal

Homosexuality was legalized in India on September 6 when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the country’s ban on consensual gay sex was “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.” The justices further ruled that gay Indians were to be given all the protections of the Constitution.

The law, known as Section 377, was one of the world’s oldest bans on same-sex acts, having existed since British colonization and resulting in thousands of Indians prosecuted and even more intimidated or blackmailed in the 150 years since. The ruling was a result of years of activist protests and the official petitioning of more than two dozen LGBT+ Indians who risked arrest in publicly identifying themselves. After the Supreme Court’s announcement, activists and the LGBT+ community celebrated across the country.

 “History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights,” said Justice Indu Malhotra.

The legalization of homosexual relationships in the second-most populous country in the world is a significant victory in achieving global equality.

But, just three days earlier on September 3, the Malaysian gay community was left in terror after two women were caned for attempting to have sex.

The two unidentified women were fined and are believed to have been struck six times in court in front of family members and government officials in a punishment that was meant to “educate" them. It could have been worse. Homosexuality in Malaysia can result in a prison sentence of up to twenty years. The court’s actions have been condemned by activists.

“This is a terrible day for LGBTI rights, and indeed human rights, in Malaysia,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, an Amnesty International researcher. “To inflict this brutal punishment on two people for attempting to engage in consensual, same-sex relations is an atrocious setback in the government’s efforts to improve its human rights record.”

The decision of the Indian Supreme Court is a major victory, but it is important to remember that there is still a long way to go in achieving global equality. Homosexuality is still criminalized in 71 countries. Many of these countries are closer to home than most would expect; several Caribbean islands, including Barbados, Dominica and Jamaica, ban same-sex acts. There is evidence of LGBT+ individuals being given the death penalty in eight countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and ISIS-held territories in Iraq and Syria.

Even in countries where homosexuality is permitted, the LGBT+ community may not have full freedoms. Though no European countries have laws explicitly banning same-sex relations, Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine have enacted or proposed laws that prohibit “any positive mention of homosexuality in the presence of minors, including online”.

Though India has achieved a major breakthrough, gay marriage is still not recognized and many conservative groups have spoken against the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It feels like there’s much more to come,” said Anurag Kalia, one of the dozens who filed the petition to the Indian courts. “This is just the first strike.”

None of what is written here is intended as a discouragement. Rather, it is a reminder that while the United States may have just celebrated the third anniversary of the legalization of gay marriage, many across the globe do not have that same freedom. While much progress has been made, there is still so much work to be done.