Once criminality of Article 377 goes, stigma against LGBTQ also will: SC

NEW DELHI
12 Jul 2018

The Supreme Court today said the social stigma and discrimination attached to the LGBTQ community would go if criminality of consensual gay sex is done away with, while maintaining that it would scrutinise the legal validity of section 377 of the IPC in all its aspects.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing a clutch of petitions challeging the constitutional validity of the 158-year-old penal law, also rejected a proposal of lawyers, seeking retention of section 377, that public opinion should be elicited on the matter, saying it did not want a referendum but would go by constitutional morality. The bench took note of the vehement opposition of these lawyers and their allegation that Centre has taken a "U-turn" in the case. "On the mere concession of the Centre, we will not say that the section is ultra-vires. We will have to analyse every aspect. We will do a detailed analysis of Section 377 and its constitutional validity," the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, said.

"We will try to see whether section 377 of the IPC can stand the test of fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech and association) and 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution," the bench said. It also objected to the submission of lawyer Manoj George that the Centre has made a U-turn on its stand and said that several verdicts including the one on right to privacy have come in the meanwhile and it would not be appropriate to call it a "U-turn". The court observed that an environment has been created in the Indian society over the years leading to deep-rooted discrimination against the community which has also adversely impacted their mental health.

The bench asked lawyer Maneka Guruswamy, who was appearing for a petitioner, whether there was any law, rule, regulation, bye-law or guideline which barred or restrained homosexuals from availing any right which are available to others. "There are no such provisions," she said.
The bench then said the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community faced the stigma because of the criminality attached to consensual same-sex relationship.

"Once the criminality (under section 377) goes, then everything will go (social stigma, discrimination etc)," it said. "Over the years, we have created an environment in the Indian society which has led to deep-rooted discrimination against people of same sex involved in a consensual relationship and this has impacted their mental health also," the bench said on the third day of crucial hearing to decide the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the IPC. Section 377 refers to 'unnatural offences' and says whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to pay a fine.