The India Supreme Court on Thursday ruled consensual same-sex sexual relations are no longer criminalized in the country.
The ruling, which was unanimous, struck down India's colonial-era sodomy law known as Section 377.
"We hold and declare that in penalizing such sexual conduct, the statutory provision violates the constitutional guarantees of liberty and equality," reads the ruling. "It denudes members of the LGBT communities of their constitutional right to lead fulfilling lives. In its application to adults of the
same sex engaged in consensual sexual behavior, it violates the constitutional guarantee of the right to life and to the equal protection of law."
The Delhi High Court in 2009 struck down the statute, but the Supreme Court in 2013 overruled the ruling. Indian lawmakers in 2015 rejected a bill that would have repealed Section 377.
The Supreme Court in January said it would reconsider its 2013 ruling. It held oral arguments in a case that challenged Section 377 in July.
Activists across India, which is the world's second-most populous country, and around the world celebrated Thursday's landmark ruling.
"Today we are feeling very proud," Meera Parida, president of All Odisha Kinnar Mahasangh, a group that advocates on behalf of India's transgender and gender-variant communities, told the Washington Blade on WhatsApp. "It is a win for humanity."
Omkar, an engineer from Bangalore who did not provide his last name to the Blade, recently moved to Norway. He said in an email on Thursday that Section 377 "was one of the important factors in the decision-making process when I was looking for other options outside of India."
"I am really really happy and content that I will no longer be considered as a criminal at least in the eyes of law," said Omkar. "It is a huge moral boost and it relieves that hidden mental and emotional stress that the existence of Section 377 had caused me."
Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy, co-secretaries general of ILGA, in a statement also welcomed the ruling.
"We rejoice with all sexual, gender and sex minorities communities in India," they said. "As of today, a shameful part of an enduring colonial legacy is finally history. We hope that this ruling, which was made possible by the tireless work of many human rights advocates, will have an impact also on other countries around the world where our communities continue to live under the shadow of oppressive criminal laws, especially those that share a common legal heritage with India, as far afield as Africa, the Pacific and Caribbean."
India is the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.
A judge on Trinidad and Tobago's High Court in April struck down the country's colonial-era sodomy law. The chief justice of the Belize Supreme Court in 2016 ruled a statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country is unconstitutional.
British Prime Minister Theresa May in April said she "deeply" regrets colonial-era sodomy laws the U.K. introduced in Commonwealth countries. Jamaica, Barbados and Kenya are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.
"We welcome the Indian Supreme Court judgment on Section 377," said the British Embassy in India in a tweet. "Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. The U.K. continues to support LGBT and equal rights across the world."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in India hours before the court issued its ruling.
The Blade has reached out to the State Department for comment.