Illuminating Same-Sex Affection: Exploring the Discourse on Homosexuality

Illuminating Same-Sex Affection: Exploring the Discourse on Homosexuality

This article has been written by Parshant, a 4th year student of VMS College of Law, Batala 


Following the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2009, India has seen a clearer emergence of queer themes, marked by public demonstrations like pride marches and protests. However, these expressions of Indian queer identity have often faced moral policing and scrutiny. Despite the legal strides, societal and religious norms still heavily stigmatize homosexuality, leading to dire consequences post-legalization. This article emphasizes the importance of ongoing debates, particularly regarding access to healthcare for Indian queer individuals, within the broader social and political landscape. The persistent religious pathologizing of homosexuality across various cultures poses significant bioethical challenges, especially in light of legislative reforms.

While many marriage laws now feature gender-neutral language, the prevailing societal perception confines marriage to heterosexual unions. Consequently, same-sex relationships, regardless of their longevity, lack legal recognition in most countries, depriving such couples of numerous legal and financial benefits associated with marital status. These include workplace perks, the ability to file joint tax returns, and, increasingly, healthcare and inheritance rights following the death of a spouse.

Although heterosexual de facto partners enjoy cultural privileges, such benefits remain inaccessible to same-gender couples. These disparities, exacerbated by the AIDS epidemic, underscore the pressing need for equitable treatment and legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Historical Aspect

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (specifically male homosexuality) until its repeal in 2009, carrying penalties ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. The Naz Foundation, an Indian NGO focused on HIV/AIDS and health advocacy, successfully challenged this law, arguing that it exacerbated the vulnerability of the LGBT community to HIV/AIDS. While the repeal marked a significant milestone for LGBT rights, it did not alleviate the entrenched stigma surrounding homosexuality, which continues to be viewed as a mental disorder in India.

The prevailing rhetoric in the LGBT rights movement, particularly post-decriminalization, often emphasizes the importance of increased visibility of LGBT individuals as a strategy to foster social acceptance. However, this approach risks blurring the boundaries between public and private spheres.

In a notable case in April 2010, a university professor who had won a lawsuit against his institution was later found dead in suspicious circumstances at his home in Aligarh. The university, motivated by the belief that homosexuality is contagious, took extraordinary measures to sanitize the professor’s on-campus residence, framing it as a site of moral contamination. This instance highlights how institutional actions can erode the distinction between public and private spaces, exacerbating disparities caused by legal recognition and societal attitudes.

India is depicted as “grey” on the ILGA map of LGBT rights in Asia, indicating a lack of clear legal protections despite the legalization of homosexuality in 2009. This representation is criticized for oversimplifying the complex reality and neglecting the nuances of individual experiences and identities.

Within this context, institutional authority constructs a narrative of queer subjectivity embedded within power dynamics, extending from public surveillance to the private domain of the home. This mapping reinforces the marginalization of gay individuals, denying them privacy and perpetuating trauma from public exposure. In a society where homosexuality remains criminalized, notions of moral health and illness continue to influence therapeutic practices and perpetuate anti-gay biases among mental health professionals.

The Cascading Impact

The existence of Section 377, which criminalized homosexual activities, forced individuals with same-sex inclinations to lead clandestine lives, concealing their sexual orientation from family, community, and authorities to avoid potential blackmail or punishment. Even without successful prosecutions, the law facilitated widespread discrimination against those diverging from the heterosexual majority. Police often exploited the threat of Section 377 penalties to entrap and coerce individuals congregating in public spaces, such as parks, for homosexual encounters. In response to such harassment, the AIDS Behaves Virodhi Angolan (ABVA) staged the first protest march outside Delhi police headquarters in August 1994, highlighting the plight faced by those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Non-governmental organizations supporting marginalized sexual minority groups also faced harassment. For instance, Sangma, an NGO working with sexual minority communities, endured prolonged persecution in Bangalore in 2002. In another instance, four activists associated with HIV/AIDS organizations in Lucknow were arrested under Section 377 in 2001 for organizing a gay “sex club,” despite their efforts being focused on distributing condoms and educational materials as part of HIV prevention efforts. Despite nationwide protests, they were released after 47 days in detention.

Criminalization of same-gender attraction exacerbates social stigma and poses barriers to seeking testing, prevention programs, and treatment, as individuals fear exposure. This, coupled with the severe penalty of a ten-year jail sentence for same-gender desires under Section 377, drives such activities underground, increasing the risk of HIV transmission. The prison authorities’ refusal to acknowledge the prohibition of gay sex under Section 377 and their reluctance to provide condoms further compounded the risk of infection among inmates.

Advocacy for enforcement

Following the 1994 Delhi Prison Case, the first legal challenge against Section 377 was initiated in the Delhi High Court by ABVA, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization. The lawsuit aimed to have Section 377 repealed on the grounds that it violated the constitutional right to privacy. However, due to delays in the hearing process, the petition was not addressed until 2001.

In 2001, the Naz Foundation India Trust, based in Delhi, collaborated with the Lawyers Collective, a legal aid group advocating for the rights of HIV/AIDS sufferers, to launch another attempt to repeal Section 377. Their approach sought to reinterpret the section to exclude consensual adult sexual activity conducted in private, rather than seeking its complete abolition. However, advocates for children’s rights opposed repealing the entire act, as it was the only provision allowing for prosecution of certain forms of child sexual abuse. The petition argued that Section 377 violated four fundamental rights, including the right to equality before the law (Article 14).

Subsequently, the Naz Foundation and Lawyers Collective petitioned the Supreme Court of India to reconsider its dismissal of the case. The Supreme Court ruled that the grounds for dismissal were unconstitutional and directed the Delhi High Court to hear the matter. A coalition of diverse non-governmental organizations (NGOs), specializing in various human rights issues, supported the petition, presenting testimony from individuals directly affected by Section 377. This coalition, formed in 2003, brought together numerous NGOs advocating for the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, as well as child rights activists and feminist groups, to oppose Section 377.

In July 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 should be narrowly interpreted to exclude consensual adult intercourse. The justices found that the provision violated Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution by criminalizing “private consensual sexual behavior of adults,” while specifying that the law would remain applicable in cases involving non-vaginal intercourse with children. The initial focus of the Naz Foundation’s appeal emphasized the health risks associated with Section 377, anticipating that highlighting the human rights of sexual minorities would be more persuasive than moral arguments.

The Voices against Section 377 coalition marked India’s first long-term collaboration between LGBT and non-LGBT groups, demonstrating that support for sexual freedom extended beyond traditional LGBT organizations. This coalition was formed in response to the Indian government’s claim that Indians were not interested in or opposed to same-gender desires.

These initiatives significantly bolstered the involvement of successful LGBT groups in the anti-Section 377 campaign, raising awareness of LGBT discrimination. By emphasizing the law’s impact on consensual adult activity and health concerns, the Naz Foundation and Voices against Section 377 were able to rally support from diverse movements unrelated to LGBT rights, uniting marginalized groups to challenge a discriminatory law while safeguarding vulnerable populations such as children. The significance of the challenge lay in its focus on the disparity between Section 377 and the ideals of human rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution, rather than solely on moral or naturalistic arguments.


The abolition of Section 377 marks a significant milestone in India’s progress toward sexual rights, celebrated by Anjali Gopalan, Executive Director of Naz Foundation (India) Trust, as a pivotal moment for defending the rights of LGBT individuals. The decision to legalize consensual same-sex sexual behavior is hailed as a crucial step by UNAIDS in advancing HIV prevention efforts in the country, restoring dignity and human rights to millions of Indian males engaging in intercourse with other men or transgender individuals, according to Michel Sidibe, the organization’s Executive Director.

However, the interpretation of Section 377 raises several legal considerations. Decriminalization does not equate to deregulation, as pointed out by Hunter. Questions arise regarding family and employment laws, potentially perpetuating discrimination based on sexual orientation. Issues such as marriage, parenthood, tax implications, inheritance rights, and employment discrimination enforcement require clarification. Additionally, concerns linger about the treatment of gay-themed media and literature under censorship laws, reflecting broader societal attitudes toward LGBTQ+ representation and expression.

While the revision of Section 377 signifies progress, it alone cannot address the complexities faced by sexual minorities. Social transformations are imperative. Despite the positive legal reform, there has been pushback against the Delhi High Court’s ruling, with some societal figures expressing fears of moral decay, increased homosexuality, erosion of traditional family values, and heightened HIV risks.


LGBT individuals face a myriad of challenges solely because of their gender identity, including discrimination and various forms of harassment in workplaces, educational institutions, and vocational training settings. It’s crucial to recognize that LGBT individuals are human beings just like everyone else and shouldn’t be required to justify themselves based on their gender preferences. Sexual orientation is an innate aspect of a person and cannot be criminalized. It’s a natural facet of human diversity, and when two consenting individuals wish to live together happily, it’s a matter of personal choice and not pathology.

The rights enshrined in our Constitution are meant to be equal for all, irrespective of gender identity, as outlined in Articles 14, 15, 19(1)(a), and 21. The principle of “My life, my choice, my partner with consent” emphasizes the right of individuals to live with pride and dignity, regardless of their gender orientation. Every individual has the inherent right to live with dignity in society, whether they identify as male, female, or transgender. This underscores the importance of upholding equal rights and combating discrimination against LGBT individuals.

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