In its ruling Thursday, the court said it must protect an individual’s right to live with dignity as a fundamental right. The justices termed sexual orientation as a “biological phenomenon” and said any discrimination on this ground violated fundamental rights.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the denial of self-expression was akin to inviting death, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
A New Delhi High Court in 2009 declared Section 377 unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned in a ruling by three Supreme Court justices in 2013 on the grounds that amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament. But lawmakers failed to take action and in July the government told the Supreme Court to give a ruling in the case.
Over the past decade, gays have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of deeply conservative India, especially in big cities. Some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues. Still, being gay is seen as shameful in much of the country.
Karan Johar, a Bollywood producer and director, said Thursday’s verdict was history in the making.
“So proud today! Decriminalizing homosexuality and abolishingsection 377 is a huge thumb up for humanity and equal rights! The country gets its oxygen back!” he wrote on Twitter.