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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2018 9:02 pm 
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India's Supreme Court strikes down law that punished gay sex
By ASHOK SHARMA
7 September 2018

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would “pave the way for a better future.”

The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was a weapon used to discriminate against India’s gay community, the judges ruled in a unanimous decision. “Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading the verdict. “Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual.”

As the news spread, the streets outside the courthouse erupted in cheers as opponents of the law danced and waved flags. “We feel as equal citizens now,” said activist Shashi Bhushan. “What happens in our bedroom is left to us.”

In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a “biological phenomenon” and that discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights. “We cannot change history but can pave a way for a better future,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The law known as Section 377 held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature. The five petitioners who challenged the law said it was discriminatory and led to gays living in fear of harassment and persecution.

Jessica Stern, the executive director of the New York-based rights group OutRight Action International, said the original law had reverberated far beyond India, including in countries where gay people still struggle for acceptance. “The sodomy law that became the model everywhere, from Uganda to Singapore to the U.K. itself, premiered in India, becoming the confusing and dehumanizing standard replicated around the world,” she said in a statement, saying “today’s historic outcome will reverberate across India and the world.”

The court’s ruling struck down the law’s sections on consensual gay sex, but let stand segments that deal with such issues as bestiality.

Homosexuality has a tangled history in India, and some of Hinduism’s most ancient texts are accepting of gay sex. But same-sex couples have also been harassed for centuries in many Indian communities, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Transgendered people known as “hijras,” for example, have long been a common sight in India. But their treatment — both shunned as impure, and embraced for the belief that they can bring powerful blessings — reflects the complexities of gay life here.

Homosexuality has gained a degree of acceptance in deeply conservative India over the past decade, particularly in big cities. India now has openly gay celebrities, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues. But many gay people still face isolation and persecution, and the court’s ruling will do little to change life on the ground for millions of people.

On Thursday, a leader of a prominent hard-line Hindu group noted that while it doesn’t see homosexuality as a crime, it believes gay marriage is not “compatible with nature.” Arun Kumar, a spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said Indian society “traditionally does not recognize” gay relationships, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

A New Delhi High Court in 2009 declared Section 377 unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned in a ruling by three Supreme Court justices in 2013 on the grounds that amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament. But lawmakers failed to take action and in July the government told the Supreme Court to give a ruling in the case.

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.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:19 pm 
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Matthew Shepard, symbol for gay rights, laid to rest in DC
By Juliet Linderman
October 26, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — After 20 years without a permanent resting place, the remains of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student whose brutal murder in 1998 has come to symbolize the plight of the LGBTQ community in America, were interred at the Washington National Cathedral on Friday.

More than 2,000 people gathered at the Episcopal cathedral, the second-largest cathedral in the country, to celebrate Shepard’s life, mourn his death and honor his memory.

The service offered a measure of closure for Shepard’s parents who, until now, hadn’t found a spot that seemed suitable or safe enough to rest their child’s remains. It also provided a moment of unity and collective grieving for those in the LGBTQ community, for whom Shepard’s death has for decades represented the pain and discrimination many had experienced themselves. And the setting inside the same sprawling cathedral in the nation’s capital where U.S. presidents are memorialized lent to the weight of the moment as hymns, speeches, choral music and prayers for love, tolerance and equality bounced off the towering columns and sweeping arches, echoing across the nave.

Shepard was an acolyte in his local Episcopalian church, and when Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop consecrated in the Episcopal church suggested the National Cathedral as a fitting resting place for Matthew’s ashes, his family agreed.

“Matt loved the church,” said Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father. “Matt was blind, just like this beautiful house of worship. He did not see skin color. He did not see religion. He did not see sexual orientation. All he saw was a chance to have another friend. Just like this beautiful home we have here.

“It is so important we now have a home for Matt,” he said. “A home that others can visit. A home that is safe from haters.”

Shepard was found badly beaten and barely breathing, tied to a split-rail fence on a dirt road near Laramie, Wyoming. He’d spent 18 hours there in the near-freezing cold before a cyclist discovered him, at first mistaking him for a scarecrow. He died five days later. Police said his attackers targeted him because he was gay.

Shepard’s death prompted a national reckoning — inspiring marches and protests, vigils and new laws. In October of 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the federal law to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.


But Friday’s interment comes at a fraught moment for the LGBTQ community in America. The Trump Administration has taken steps to restrict protections, including trying to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals in the military and rescinding guidance for schools receiving federal funding on how to treat transgender students. Trump has also installed dozens of conservative judges and his administration, according to an article in the New York Times this week, is drafting language that would limit the definition of gender to only male or female at birth, stripping the transgender community of protection under civil rights law.

Robinson delivered the homily, at times overcome with emotion.

“I have three things I want to say to Matt,” he said through tears. “Gently rest in this place. You are safe now. And Matt, welcome home.”

The undercurrent of his address was political: He implored the audience to “go vote,” and told them simply honoring Shepard’s memory isn’t enough.

He spoke of James Byrd, the African American man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck by three white supremacists and whose name is on the same hate-crime law as Shepard’s.

“Violence comes in many different forms,” Robinson said, “and right now, the transgender community is the target. There are forces about who would erase them from America, deny them the right they have to define themselves. And they need us to stand for them. That’s the kind of transformation today makes possible: that we see the bigger picture.”

Some attendees wiped away tears. Some held hands and comforted each other.

Nicole Murray Ramirez, an LGBTQ activist, traveled from San Diego for the service. Seeing Shepard put to rest in such a historic space felt cathartic, he said.

“How wonderful in such a historic cathedral, that has been a place of so many memorial celebrations and funerals, that Matthew, a young gay man, deserved and earned that honor and respect from the nation.”

But Ramirez said the fight is far from over, and he worries about the tenor of the national conversation surrounding the LGBTQ community.

“These are difficult times,” he said, “I fear more Matthew Shepards.”

Source: AP

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