India’s Battle for Same-Sex Love

Jul 19, 2018

By Sandip Roy

Five judges on India’s Supreme Court are hearing a challenge to a law that criminalizes homosexual sex — Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced by British colonial authorities in 1861 and kept on the books in independent India.

The Indian government told the court, which began hearings last Tuesday, that it would leave it to the wisdom of the judges to decide whether Section 377 violates fundamental rights to life, liberty and personal security as long as it does not get into broader issues like marriage, inheritance and adoption. But these are inevitable. Menaka Guruswamy, a lawyer for the plaintiffs against Section 377, argued that it was love that needed to be “constitutionally recognized” and not just sex.

Social media and newspapers are filled with conversations and reports about Section 377, but L.G.B.T. life in India has long bypassed the law. Last week I got a message about “Pink Coffee,” a gay get-together at a cafe in Kolkata. A few weeks earlier, Varta, a local nonprofit, introduced an online database of L.G.B.T.-friendly therapists, doctors and legal aid providers in India. Days later I went to the regular gay dance party at a luxury hotel in the city.

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