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India's Supreme Court legalises gay sex in landmark ruling

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Indian activists of the LGBTQ community celebrating after hearing the Supreme Court's verdict in Bangalore on Thursday.

New Delhi

INDIA'S top court has legalised gay sex in the world's second-most populous country in a landmark decision that partially struck down a 158-year-old colonial-era law.

After a decades-long legal battle, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India has diluted Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which was first enacted in 1860 and ranks gay sex alongside bestiality as a crime "against the order of nature".

Reading out the judgment in a packed courtroom on Thursday, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the law violated the right to equality enshrined in the constitution and was being used as a "weapon of discrimination".

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The Supreme Court's decision will have a wide-ranging economic and social impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) citizens across the country of 1.3 billion people. The ruling will prevent discrimination of gay employees and their partners in India, where activists say members of the LGBTQ community are singled out and blackmailed.

"This is a victory for individual liberty in India that is long overdue," said Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

The move to overturn a law implemented by the British before India's independence in 1947 comes after a Hong Kong court in July allowed giving visas to spouses of gay expatriate workers in Asia's main financial hub. The move has put pressure on other Asian capitals to make themselves more attractive in the race for global talent. Australia legalised same-sex marriage late last year.

Although the ruling will not permit same-sex marriage, it is a step towards greater equality and brings India closer to other jurisdictions across Asia, which are liberalising laws to make their economies open, welcoming and more inclusive.

"India is operating as part of the global economy," said Parmesh Shahani, who heads the Mumbai-based conglomerate Godrej group's in-house India Culture Lab, which helps Indian companies adopt inclusive workplace policies. "It's not just GDP numbers that make you part of the global economy - it's also these values." BLOOMBERG