September 6, 2018 1:36 pm
Updated: September 7, 2018 5:38 am

India legalized homosexuality, but many of its neighbours haven’t

WATCH ABOVE: In a landmark ruling on Thursday, India's Supreme Court struck down a law that made homosexual acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison, causing celebrations to erupt across the country.

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India’s decision to legalize gay sex sets it apart from many of its geographical neighbours, where homosexuality is often punished with time in prison.

India’s Supreme Court unanimously overturned a ban on homosexual intercourse Thursday, striking down a law that punished offenders with up to 10 years in prison.

The law, prohibiting sexual activities “against the order of nature,” was originally put in place under British colonial rule in 1861.

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Dozens of former British colonies still have a version of the same law that criminalizes homosexual intercourse, including several in the vicinity of India.

The law focused on the act of homosexual sex. India did not prosecute people for being outwardly gay, although the law was reportedly used in some cases to make arrests.

“This decision resonates across the region,” said Lucas Ramon Mendos, senior researcher for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

“Many of these countries, as former British colonies, have amended British penalties, either to criminalize men and women or to increase penalties,” he told Global News on Thursday.

Here’s what the LGBT laws are like in countries that share a land border with India.

The British model

Section 377 of Britain’s colonial penal code prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.” The original wording allows for a life sentence or for up to 10 years in prison.

Versions of the law still exist under Section 377 in the penal codes of PakistanBangladesh, Myanmar, The law also exists under Section 365 of Sri Lanka’s penal code.

Mendos says few cases under these laws are actually prosecuted, but LGBT people in those countries often face discrimination in public and in the workplace.

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Human Rights Watch has flagged Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka as problematic areas for LGBT rights, in its latest world report on gender issues. The U.S. State Department also warns that discrimination against homosexuals is common in those countries.

Sri Lanka hasn’t convicted anybody of gay sex in several decades, although discrimination is still rampant in the country, according to a report released by the activist group Equal Ground.

Mendos says attitudes are improving in Sri Lanka, but that doesn’t mean it’s on the verge of following India’s lead.

The decision in India has already emboldened activists in neighbouring countries.

“The Bangladeshi LGBT community has gained moral support,” Shahanur Islam, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights, told Reuters.

“We hope and will make sure that other countries will follow suit in overturning this remnant from colonial law,” said Mani Aq of the Pakistani branch of the Naz Foundation.

The tiny nation of Bhutan also outlaws gay sex, although it does not do so under a former British penal code.

Bhutan outlaws “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature,” according to a report by the U.S. State Department.

Offenders can be punished by up to a year in prison.

Where it’s legal

China is one of the few countries bordering India to legally permit gay sex. The country legalized homosexuality in 1997, although same-sex marriages are still not recognized and few anti-discrimination laws exist.

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LGBT people are legally protected by several laws in Nepal. The country’s Supreme Court ordered the government to review all of its laws in 2007, to ensure that none of them discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nepal also permits a third gender on many of its official documents, and has enshrined LGBT-specific protections in its constitution, Human Rights Watch says.

“We’ve seen great progress being made in the country,” Mendos said.

Challenges remain in India

Homosexuality remains taboo in socially conservative India, where many frowned upon Thursday’s ruling.

The law was previously repealed in 2009, but astrologer Suresh Kumar Kaushal challenged it and had it reinstated in 2013.

Kaushal told Reuters on Thursday that the latest verdict would erode traditional society.

“Marriage is the most sacred part of our culture, many cultures actually,” he said. “Sexual relations are a sacred part of this bond.”

Subramanian Swamy, a member of parliament for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, also complained about the decision.

“This verdict could give rise to other issues such as an increase in the number of HIV cases,” he said, repeating a common misconception.

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,” he said.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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