Section 377: Full text of SC's judgement on decriminalising homosexuality

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Below is the full text of the judgment of the Supreme Court regarding Section 377. 

A. Introduction 

Not for nothing, the great German thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, had said, .I am what I am, so take me as I am. and similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer had pronounced, .No one can escape  from their individuality.. In this regard, it is profitable to quote a few lines from John Stuart Mill:- 

.But society has now fairly got the better of individuality;  and the danger which threatens human nature is not  the excess, but the deficiency of personal impulses and preferences.. 

 The emphasis on the unique being of an individual is the salt of his/her life. Denial of self-expression is inviting death. Irreplaceability of individuality and identity is grant of respect to self. This realization is one‘s signature and self-determined design. One defines oneself. That is the glorious form of individuality. In the present case, our deliberation and focus on the said concept shall be from various spectrums. 

2. Shakespeare through one of his characters in a play says .What‘s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name 
would smell as sweet.. The said phrase, in its basic sense, conveys that what really matters is the essential qualities of the substance and the fundamental characteristics of an entity but not the name by which it or a person is called. Getting further deeper into the meaning, it is understood that the name may be a convenient concept for identification but the essence behind the same is the core of identity. Sans identity, the name only remains a denotative term. Therefore, the identity is pivotal to one‘s being. Life bestows honour on it and freedom of living, as a facet of life, expresses genuine desire to have it. The said desire, one is inclined to think, is satisfied by the conception of constitutional recognition, and hence, emphasis is laid 
on the identity of an individual which is conceived under the 
Constitution. And the sustenance of identity is the filament of life. It is 
equivalent to authoring one‘s own life script where freedom broadens 
everyday. Identity is equivalent to divinity. 

3. The overarching ideals of individual autonomy and liberty, 
equality for all sans discrimination of any kind, recognition of identity 
with dignity and privacy of human beings constitute the cardinal four 
corners of our monumental Constitution forming the concrete 
substratum of our fundamental rights that has eluded certain sections 
of our society who are still living in the bondage of dogmatic social 
norms, prejudiced notions, rigid stereotypes, parochial mindset and 
bigoted perceptions. Social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation 
from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by 
individuals today and it is only when each and every individual is 
liberated from the shackles of such bondage and is able to work 
towards full development of his/her personality that we can call 
ourselves a truly free society. The first step on the long path to 
acceptance of the diversity and variegated hues that nature has 
created has to be taken now by vanquishing the enemies of prejudice 
and injustice and undoing the wrongs done so as to make way for a 
progressive and inclusive realisation of social and economic rights 
embracing all and to begin a dialogue for ensuring equal rights and 
opportunities for the .less than equal. sections of the society. We 
have to bid adieu to the perceptions, stereotypes and prejudices 

deeply ingrained in the societal mindset so as to usher in inclusivity in 
all spheres and empower all citizens alike without any kind of 
alienation and discrimination. 
4. The natural identity of an individual should be treated to be 
absolutely essential to his being. What nature gives is natural. That 
is called nature within. Thus, that part of the personality of a person 
has to be respected and not despised or looked down upon. The said 
inherent nature and the associated natural impulses in that regard are 
to be accepted. Non-acceptance of it by any societal norm or notion 
and punishment by law on some obsolete idea and idealism affects 
the kernel of the identity of an individual. Destruction of individual 
identity would tantamount to crushing of intrinsic dignity that 
cumulatively encapsulates the values of privacy, choice, freedom of 
speech and other expressions. It can be viewed from another angle. 
An individual in exercise of his choice may feel that he/she should be 
left alone but no one, and we mean, no one, should impose solitude 
on him/her. 

5. The eminence of identity has been luculently stated in National 
Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and others1, popularly 

1 (2014) 5 SCC 438 

known as NALSA case, wherein the Court was dwelling upon the 
status of identity of the transgenders. Radhakrishnan, J., after 
referring to catena of judgments and certain International Covenants, 
opined that gender identity is one of the most fundamental aspects of 
life which refers to a person‘s intrinsic sense of being male, female or 
transgender or transsexual person. A person‘s sex is usually 
assigned at birth, but a relatively small group of persons may be born 
with bodies which incorporate both or certain aspects of both male 
and female physiology. The learned Judge further observed that at 
times, genital anatomy problems may arise in certain persons in the 
sense that their innate perception of themselves is not in conformity 
with the sex assigned to them at birth and may include pre-and post-
operative transsexual persons and also persons who do not choose 
to undergo or do not have access to operation and also include 
persons who cannot undergo successful operation. Elaborating 
further, he said:- 

.Gender identity refers to each person‘s deeply felt 
internal and individual experience of gender, which 
may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at 
birth, including the personal sense of the body which 
may involve a freely chosen, modification of bodily 
appearance or functions by medical, surgical or other 
means and other expressions of gender, including 
dress, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity, 

therefore, refers to an individual‘s self-identification as 
a man, woman, transgender or other identified 
category.. 

6. Adverting to the concept of discrimination, he stated:- 

.The discrimination on the ground of .sex. under 
Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination 
on the ground of gender identity. The expression .sex. 
used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to 
biological sex of male or female, but intended to 
include people who consider themselves to be neither 
male nor female.. 

7. Dealing with the legality of transgender identity, Radhakrishnan, 
J. ruled:- 

.The self-identified gender can be either male or 
female or a third gender. Hijras are identified as 
persons of third gender and are not identified either as 
male or female. Gender identity, as already indicated, 
refers to a person‘s internal sense of being male, 
female or a transgender, for example hijras do not 
identify as female because of their lack of female 
genitalia or lack of reproductive capability. This 
distinction makes them separate from both male and 
female genders and they consider themselves neither 
man nor woman, but a .third gender... 

8. Sikri, J., in his concurring opinion, dwelling upon the rights of 
transgenders, laid down that gender identification is an essential 
component which is required for enjoying civil rights by the 
community. It is only with this recognition that many rights attached to 
the sexual recognition as .third gender. would be available to the said 

community more meaningfully viz. the right to vote, the right to own 
property, the right to marry, the right to claim a formal identity through 
a passport and a ration card, a driver‘s licence, the right to education, 
employment, health and so on. Emphasising on the aspect of human 
rights, he observed:- 

.…there seems to be no reason why a transgender 
must be denied of basic human rights which includes 
right to life and liberty with dignity, right to privacy and 
freedom of expression, right to education and 
empowerment, right against violence, right against 
exploitation and right against discrimination. The 
Constitution has fulfilled its duty of providing rights to 
transgenders. Now it is time for us to recognise this 
and to extend and interpret the Constitution in such a 
manner to ensure a dignified life for transgender 
people. All this can be achieved if the beginning is 
made with the recognition of TG as third gender.

The aforesaid judgment, as is manifest, lays focus on 
inalienable .gender identity. and correctly connects with human rights 
and the constitutionally guaranteed right to life and liberty with dignity. 
It lays stress on the judicial recognition of such rights as an 
inextricable component of Article 21 of the Constitution and decries 
any discrimination as that would offend Article 14, the .fon juris. of 
our Constitution. 

9. It has to be borne in mind that search for identity as a basic 
human ideal has reigned the mind of every individual in many a 

sphere like success, fame, economic prowess, political assertion, 
celebrity status and social superiority, etc. But search for identity, in 
order to have apposite space in law, sans stigmas and sans fear has 
to have the freedom of expression about his/her being which is 
keenly associated with the constitutional concept of .identity with 
dignity.. When we talk about identity from the constitutional spectrum, 
it cannot be pigeon-holed singularly to one‘s orientation that may be 
associated with his/her birth and the feelings he/she develops when 
he/she grows up. Such a narrow perception may initially sound to 
subserve the purpose of justice but on a studied scrutiny, it is soon 
realized that the limited recognition keeps the individual choice at 
bay. The question that is required to be posed here is whether sexual 
orientation alone is to be protected or both orientation and choice are 
to be accepted as long as the exercise of these rights by an individual 
do not affect another‘s choice or, to put it succinctly, has the consent 
of the other where dignity of both is maintained and privacy, as a 
seminal facet of Article 21, is not dented. At the core of the concept of 
identity lies self-determination, realization of one‘s own abilities 
visualizing the opportunities and rejection of external views with a 
clear conscience that is in accord with constitutional norms and 

values or principles that are, to put in a capsule, .constitutionally 
permissible.. As long as it is lawful, one is entitled to determine and 
follow his/her pattern of life. And that is where the distinction between 
constitutional morality and social morality or ethicality assumes a 
distinguished podium, a different objective. Non-recognition in the 
fullest sense and denial of expression of choice by a statutory penal 
provision and giving of stamp of approval by a two-Judge Bench of 
this Court to the said penal provision, that is, Section 377 of the 
Indian Penal Code, in Suresh Kumar Koushal and another v. Naz 
Foundation and others2 overturning the judgment of the Delhi High 
Court in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi and 
others3, is the central issue involved in the present controversy. 
B. The Reference 

2 (2014) 1 SCC 1 
3 (2009) 111 DRJ 1 

10. Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016 was filed for declaring 
.right to sexuality., .right to sexual autonomy. and .right to choice of a 
sexual partner. to be part of the right to life guaranteed under Article 
21 of the Constitution of India and further to declare Section 377 of 
the Indian Penal Code (for short, .IPC.) to be unconstitutional. When 
the said Writ Petition was listed before a three-Judge Bench on 

08.01.2018, the Court referred to a two-Judge Bench decision 
rendered in Suresh Koushal (supra) wherein this Court had 
overturned the decision rendered by the Division Bench of the Delhi 
High Court in Naz Foundation (supra). It was submitted by Mr. 
Arvind Datar, learned senior counsel appearing for the writ 
petitioners, on the said occasion that the two-Judge Bench in Suresh 
Koushal (supra) had been guided by social morality leaning on 
majoritarian perception whereas the issue, in actuality, needed to be 
debated upon in the backdrop of constitutional morality. A contention 
was also advanced that the interpretation placed in Suresh Kumar 
(supra) upon Article 21 of the Constitution is extremely narrow and, in 
fact, the Court has been basically guided by Article 14 of the 
Constitution. Reliance was placed on the pronouncement in NALSA 
case wherein this Court had emphasized on .gender identity and 
sexual orientation.. Attention of this Court was also invited to a nine-
Judge Bench decision in K.S. Puttaswamy and another v. Union of 
India and others4 wherein the majority, speaking through 
Chandrachud, J., has opined that sexual orientation is an essential 
component of rights guaranteed under the Constitution which are not 

4 (2017) 10 SCC 1 

formulated on majoritarian favour or acceptance. Kaul, J, in his 
concurring opinion, referred to the decision in Mosley v. News 
Group Newspapers Ltd.5 to highlight that the emphasis for 
individual‘s freedom to conduct his sex life and personal relationships 
as he wishes, subject to the permitted exceptions, countervails public 
interest. 
11. The further submission that was advanced by Mr. Datar was 
that privacy of the individual having been put on such a high pedestal 
and sexual orientation having been emphasized in the NALSA case, 
Section 377 IPC cannot be construed as a reasonable restriction as 
that would have the potentiality to destroy the individual autonomy 
and sexual orientation. It is an accepted principle of interpretation of 
statutes that a provision does not become unconstitutional merely 
because there can be abuse of the same. Similarly, though a 
provision on the statute book is not invoked on many occasions, yet it 
does not fall into the sphere of the doctrine of desuetude. However, 
Suresh Koushal's case has been guided by the aforesaid doctrine of 
desuetude. 

5 [2008] EWHC 1777 (QB) 

12. Appreciating the said submissions, the three-Judge Bench 
stated that:- 

.Certain other aspects need to be noted. Section 377 
IPC uses the phraseology .carnal intercourse against 
the order of nature.. The determination of order of 
nature is not a constant phenomenon. Social morality 
also changes from age to age. The law copes with life 
and accordingly change takes place. The morality that 
public perceives, the Constitution may not conceive of. 
The individual autonomy and also individual orientation 
cannot be atrophied unless the restriction is regarded 
as reasonable to yield to the morality of the 
Constitution. What is natural to one may not be natural 
to the other but the said natural orientation and choice 
cannot be allowed to cross the boundaries of law and 
as the confines of law cannot tamper or curtail the 
inherent right embedded in an individual under Article 
21 of the Constitution. A section of people or 
individuals who exercise their choice should never 
remain in a state of fear. When we say so, we may not 
be understood to have stated that there should not be 
fear of law because fear of law builds civilised society. 
But that law must have the acceptability of the 
Constitutional parameters. That is the litmus test. 

 It is necessary to note, in the course of hearing 
on a query being made and Mr. Datar very fairly stated 
that he does not intend to challenge that part of 
Section 377 which relates to carnal intercourse with 
animals and that apart, he confines to consenting acts 
between two adults. As far as the first aspect is 
concerned, that is absolutely beyond debate. As far as 
the second aspect is concerned, that needs to be 
debated. The consent between two adults has to be 
the primary pre-condition. Otherwise the children 
would become prey, and protection of the children in 
all spheres has to be guarded and protected. Taking all 
the apsects in a cumulative manner, we are of the 

view, the decision in Suresh Kumar Koushal's case 
(supra) requires re-consideration.. 

 The three-Judge Bench expressed the opinion that the issues 
raised should be answered by a larger Bench and, accordingly, 
referred the matter to the larger Bench. That is how the matter has 
been placed before us. 

C. Submissions on behalf of the petitioners 

13. We have heard Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, learned senior counsel 
assisted by Mr. Saurabh Kirpal, learned counsel appearing for the 
petitioners in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Ms. Jayna 
Kothari, learned counsel for the petitioner in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 
572 of 2016, Mr. Arvind P. Datar, learned senior counsel for the 
petitioner in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 88 of 2018, Mr. Anand 
Grover, learned senior counsel for the petitioners in Writ Petition 
(Criminal) Nos. 100 of 2018 and 101 of 2018 and Dr. Menaka 
Guruswamy, learned counsel for the petitioner in Writ Petition 
(Criminal) No. 121 of 2018. We have also heard Mr. Ashok Desai, Mr. 
Chander Uday Singh, Mr. Shyam Divan and Mr. Krishnan Venugopal, 
learned senior counsel appearing for various intervenors in the 
matter. A compilation of written submissions has been filed by the 
petitioners as well as the intervenors. 

14. We have heard Mr. Tushar Mehta, learned Additional Solicitor 
General for the Union of India, Mr. K. Radhakrishnan, learned senior 
counsel appearing in Interlocutory Application No. 94284 of 2018 in 
Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Mr. Mahesh Jethmalani, 
learned senior counsel appearing in Interlocutory Application No. 
91147 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Mr. Soumya 
Chakraborty, learned senior counsel appearing in Interlocutory 
Application No. 94348 of 2018 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 
2016, Mr. Manoj V. George, learned counsel appearing for Apostolic 
Alliance of Churches & Utkal Christian Council and Dr. Harshvir 
Pratap Sharma, learned counsel appearing in Interlocutory 
Application No. 93411 of 2018 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 
2016. 

15. It is submitted on behalf of the petitioners and the intervenors 
that homosexuality, bisexuality and other sexual orientations are 
equally natural and reflective of expression of choice and inclination 
founded on consent of two persons who are eligible in law to express 
such consent and it is neither a physical nor a mental illness, rather 
they are natural variations of expression and free thinking process 
and to make it a criminal offence is offensive of the well established 

principles pertaining to individual dignity and decisional autonomy 
inherent in the personality of a person, a great discomfort to gender 
identity, destruction of the right to privacy which is a pivotal facet of 
Article 21 of the Constitution, unpalatable to the highly cherished idea 
of freedom and a trauma to the conception of expression of biological 
desire which revolves around the pattern of mosaic of true 
manifestation of identity. That apart, the phrase .order of nature. is 
limited to the procreative concept that may have been conceived as 
natural by a systemic conservative approach and such limitations do 
not really take note of inborn traits or developed orientations or, for 
that matter, consensual acts which relate to responses to series of 
free exercise of assertions of one‘s bodily autonomy. It is further 
argued that their growth of personality, relation building endeavour to 
enter into a live-in relationship or to form an association with a sense 
of commonality have become a mirage and the essential desires are 
crippled which violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is urged 
that the American Psychological Association has opined that sexual 
orientation is a natural condition and attraction towards the same sex 
or opposite sex are both naturally equal, the only difference being 
that the same sex attraction arises in far lesser numbers. 

16. The petitioners have highlighted that the rights of the lesbian, 
gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, who comprise 7-
8% of the total Indian population, need to be recognized and 
protected, for sexual orientation is an integral and innate facet of 
every individual‘s identity. A person belonging to the said community 
does not become an alien to the concept of individual and his 
individualism cannot be viewed with a stigma. The impact of sexual 
orientation on an individual‘s life is not limited to their intimate lives 
but also impacts their family, professional, social and educational life. 
As per the petitioners, such individuals (sexual minorities in societies) 
need protection more than the heterosexuals so as to enable them to 
achieve their full potential and to live freely without fear, 
apprehension or trepidation in such a manner that they are not 
discriminated against by the society openly or insidiously or by the 
State in multifarious ways in matters such as employment, choice of 
partner, testamentary rights, insurability, medical treatment in 
hospitals and other similar rights arising from live-in relationships 
which, after the decision in Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma6, is 
recognized even by the .Protection of Women from Domestic 

6 (2013) 15 SCC 755 

Violence Act, 2005. for various kinds of live-in relationships. The 
same protection, as per the petitioners, must be accorded to same 
sex relationships. 

17. It is urged by the learned counsel for the petitioners that 
individuals belonging to the LGBT group suffer discrimination and 
abuse throughout their lives due to the existence of Section 377 IPC 
which is nothing but a manifestation of a mindset of societal values 
prevalent during the Victorian era where sexual activities were 
considered mainly for procreation. The said community remains in a 
constant state of fear which is not conducive for their growth. It is 
contended that they suffer at the hands of law and are also deprived 
of the citizenry rights which are protected under the Constitution. The 
law should have treated them as natural victims and sensitized the 
society towards their plight and laid stress on such victimisation, 
however, the reverse is being done due to which a sense of 
estrangement and alienation has developed and continues to prevail 
amongst the members belonging to the LGBT group. Compulsory 
alienation due to stigma and threat is contrary to the fundamental 
principle of liberty. 

Read the full judgment here

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