A Christian pastor protested India’s groundbreaking ruling on gay sex by holding a demonstration in a South Indian courthouse on Monday.
Father Felix Jebasingh of Puliakulam Church warned passersby at the district court in Coimbatore — the second-largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu — that decriminalizing homosexuality would result in the “destruction of the society.”
“Please do not support the court judgment,” Jebasingh claimed, adding as he was led away by police: “The Jesus Christ is arriving. His arrival is imminent. God has destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah using fire and sulphur because they allowed homosexuality. […] Don’t support homosexuality.”
The pastor was taken to a nearby police station in the city of 1.6 million, the Times of India reports. He was later released.
Yesterday’s incident was a rare public protest in the days since India struck down its 168-year-old law banning sodomy. In a unanimous ruling, a five-judge panel commissioned by the India Supreme Court claimed Section 377 of the Penal Code — a colonial law prohibiting offenses “against the order of nature” — is “irrational, arbitrary and indefensible.”
“Any consensual sexual relationship between two consenting adults — homosexuals, heterosexuals, or lesbians — cannot be said to be unconstitutional,” claimed Chief Justice Dipak Misra as opinions were read aloud Thursday morning.
Security forces noted that legalizing same-sex intercourse in a country where the majority of citizens hold deeply conservative views on homosexuality had the potential to trigger demonstrations. GardaWorld, a private firm based in Canada, sent a news alert on Thursday claiming protests were likely over the next three days.
While backlash to the ruling has been notably muted, celebrations across the country of 1.3 billion have been widespread.
In cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, and New Delhi, supporters of LGBTQ rights marched with rainbow flags, danced in the streets, and released balloons in honor of the historic achievement.
Keshav Suri, one of the dozen plaintiffs who fought to overturn Section 377, claimed he “cried” when the decision came down.
“It felt validating, exciting, [and] emotional,” Suri, a hotel manager who married his partner of a decade earlier this year, told National Public Radio. “[…] And more importantly, I felt an acceptance of my existence.”
Arif Jafar, who spent a month and a half in prison after being prosecuted under Section 377, said that what meant most to him was Justice Indu Malhotra’s call for Indian citizens to ask forgiveness from the LGBTQ community. He claimed queer and trans people are owed an apology “for the ostracization and persecution they faced because of society’s ignorance.”
“Those words really mean a lot to us,” he said. “Today’s ruling has made my 30-year journey worth it.”
While supporters of Section 377 claim the anti-sodomy law was rarely enforced, LGBTQ people were frequently jailed, blackmailed, and harassed under the penal code. In 2018, at least 2,187 documented cases of “unnatural offenses” were prosecuted.
Advocates say decriminalizing homosexuality could inspire other former British colonies to do the same; more than 40 countries have similar laws on the books.
But in the face of Jebasingh’s fears of a queer India, the decision could also lead to further progress in the peninsular nation. Support for LGBTQ rights has consistently grown over the past three decades. Whereas just .7 percent of Indians claimed to be “broadly supportive” of homosexuality in 1990, 30.3 percent of respondents in a 2014 World Values Survey had no problem with same-sex relationships.
LGBTQ supporters still have a lot of work to do, however, before queer and trans people are treated as equal in Indian society. An estimated six in 10 young people still believe homosexuality is wrong, according to a 2016 youth survey.
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