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NEW DELHI – Indian Supreme Court declared on Thursday consensual sex between adults of the same gender legal, saying it is the choice of an individual.

Partially scrapping Section 377, which bans homosexuality, a five-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, said the law is ‘irrational, arbitrary and incomprehensible,’ adding that LGBT community has equal rights in society like other citizens.

In four separate but concurring verdicts, the five judges of the apex court announced that the section failed to make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual acts. Bestiality will also continue to be a crime under section 377.

Section 377: Unnatural offences: 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 fine.

“It had become a weapon for the harassment for LGBT and subject them to discrimination,” Chief Justice Misra said.

The top court reversed its own 2013 decision.

The high court had decriminalised consensual gay sex in 2009 but the top court had cancelled the order four years later, ruling that only parliament should be changing laws, Hindustan Times reported.

In 2016, the top court, however, agreed to take up a petition by five prominent members of the LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Johar, culture expert Aman Nath, restaurateurs Ritu Dalmia and Ayesha Kapur and media person Sunil Mehra, challenging the British-era law, section 377.

Later, a five-member bench was set up to determine if the provision violates fundamental rights assured by the constitution. The hearing was concluded in July.

The petitioners argued that Section 377 violates rights and principles guaranteed by the constitution, like equality before law, no discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and freedom of speech and expression.

Huge crowd of gay activists and people from different backgrounds, fighting for the scrapping of Section 377 were gathered outside the court to hear the landmark the verdict.

Celebrations 

Following the verdict, people took to Twitter and extended congratulations to the LGBT community over their victory.