India decriminalizes gay sex in landmark verdict

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's supreme court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would "pave the way for a better future."

The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was a weapon used to discriminate against India's gay community, the judges ruled in a unanimous decision.

"Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading out the verdict. "Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual."

As the news spread, the streets outside the courthouse erupted in cheers as opponents of the law danced and waved flags.

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India decriminalizes homosexual acts in court ruling
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India decriminalizes homosexual acts in court ruling
An activist of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community celebrates after the Supreme Court's verdict of decriminalizing gay sex and revocation of the Section 377 law, in Bengaluru, India, September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis, India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and India's Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman pose after a joint news conference after a meeting in New Delhi, India, September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Siliguri on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP) (Photo credit should read DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Siliguri on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP) (Photo credit should read DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers travelling on a public bus watch members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrates the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrates the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community cries as she celebrates the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian hotelier and petitioner Keshav Suri (C) and his husband Cyril Feuillebois (L) gesture at 'The Lalit' hotel ahead of the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - It was like a scene from a Bollywood blockbuster as staff at one of New Delhi's most luxurious hotels performed an elaborate dance routine in the lobby to celebrate a historic Supreme Court ruling on gay rights. Keshav Suri, executive director of the hotel group and one of the petitioners, entered the lobby to rousing applause, gave his husband a peck on the cheek and declared: 'It is time to celebrate. It is time to come out of the closet.' (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Chennai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community holds a rose outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community holds a placard outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community pose for a picture outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community react outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community react outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community pose for a picture as they hold a placard outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community pose for a picture outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community pose for a picture as they hold a placard outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community pose for a picture as they hold a placard outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrates the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by Manjunath KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down a ban on gay sex after a decades-old campaign against a colonial-era law used to hold back homosexual rights. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Employees of 'The Lalit' hotel and Indian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community look on after the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - It was like a scene from a Bollywood blockbuster as staff at one of New Delhi's most luxurious hotels performed an elaborate dance routine in the lobby to celebrate a historic Supreme Court ruling on gay rights. Keshav Suri, executive director of the hotel group and one of the petitioners, entered the lobby to rousing applause, gave his husband a peck on the cheek and declared: 'It is time to celebrate. It is time to come out of the closet.' (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community arranges badges condemning Section 377 of the Indian penal code as they waited on a Supreme Court decision on whether to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community wears a badge against Section 377 of the Indian penal code as they waited on a Supreme Court decision on whether to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community hold hands as they wait on a Supreme Court decision on whether to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community waves a flag outside the Supreme Court building as crowds gathered to celebrate the decision to strike down the colonial-era ban on gay sex in New Delhi on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai on September 6, 2018. - India's Supreme Court on September 6 struck down the ban that has been at the centre of years of legal battles. 'The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,' Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community takes part in a pride parade in Bhopal on July 15, 2018. - Supreme court of India is hearing petitions for the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We feel as equal citizens now," said activist Shashi Bhushan. "What happens in our bedroom is left to us."

In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a "biological phenomenon" and that any discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights.

"We cannot change history but can pave a way for a better future," said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The law known as Section 377 held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature. The five petitioners who challenged the law said it was discriminatory and led to gays living in fear of harassment and persecution.

Arvind Datar, the attorney for the petitioners, argued in the court that the provision was unconstitutional because it provides for the prosecution and sentencing of consenting adults.

Homosexuality has a tangled history in India, with some of Hinduism's most ancient texts accepting of gay sex. Transgendered people known as "hijras" have been a common sight in India for centuries. They are shunned by the wider community and often forced to work as beggars and prostitutes, but are also sometimes embraced because they are believed to bring powerful blessings.

On Thursday, a leader of a prominent hard-line Hindu group noted that while it doesn't see homosexuality as a crime, it believes gay marriage is not "compatible with nature."

Arun Kumar, a spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said Indian society "traditionally does not recognize" gay relationships, 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.

Sukhdeep Singh, a gay rights activist and editor of Gaylaxy Magazine, said the community still had a lot of distance to go "to be legally with your partner."

"This will obviously open the doors for a lot of more things, more civil rights. And we'll fight for our rights, definitely. This is the first battle that has been won and there are many more battles that we are going to fight and we'll win that as well. For sure," he said.

Karan Johar, a Bollywood producer and director, said Thursday's verdict was history in the making.

"So proud today! Decriminalizing homosexuality and abolishing section 377 is a huge thumb up for humanity and equal rights! The country gets its oxygen back!" he wrote on Twitter.

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