In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court has not legally recognized same-sex marriages. Still, the judgment also underscores the LGBTQ community’s right to be free from discrimination and prejudice. Campaigners sought marriage rights under Indian law, granting them access to the same privileges as heterosexual couples. While that request was denied, the LGBTQ community celebrated the recognition of their relationships.
A five-judge constitution bench, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, delivered a highly anticipated verdict.
- Chief Justice’s Statements:
- Chief Justice Chandrachud stated that queerness is a “natural phenomenon.”
- Emphasized the government’s responsibility to prevent discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation within the queer community.
- Marriage Laws:
- The court acknowledged that it is the responsibility of Parliament and state legislatures to enact laws on marriage.
- Emphasized that the concept of marriage is not static.
- Stated that the court cannot assume that only heterosexual couples can be good parents.
- Asserted that queerness is not solely an urban concept.
- Recognition of LGBTQ Rights:
- The court recognized the rights of LGBTQ couples to choose their partners and celebrate their commitment to each other within the social realm.
- Clarified that this recognition does not extend to providing legal entitlements or status for same-sex unions or relationships.
- Call for Evaluation:
- The court called for forming a “high-powered committee” to evaluate laws indirectly discriminating against LGBTQ couples.
- Highlighted the denial of “compensatory benefits or social welfare entitlements” usually associated with legal marriage.
- Emphasized the need to study the impact of these policies and entitlements to ensure non-discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation within the queer community.
The verdict was greeted with disappointment by some of the petitioners who had challenged the provisions of the Special Marriage Act 1954 (SMA), the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, and the Foreign Marriage Act 1969. They argued that marriage brings several rights, privileges, and obligations protected by the law.
Susan Dias, one of the petitioners in the case, said she and her partner were “disappointed” with the verdict. “We were hopeful that it would go a little more positively,” she said. “We filed the petition hoping that we’d leave with some rights. So, disappointment, but I don’t think we’ve taken any steps back.”
Some activists and campaigners welcomed the verdict as a progressive step, even though they considered it “diplomatic.” Pranav Grover, 20, said it was a “diplomatic” verdict. “It came in perspective with keeping both parties happy,” he said, adding: “Let’s start to focus on the positive.”
Amrita, who goes by the pronouns she/they, said while it was “very nice to be recognized by the justices,” it was time to “get a move on.” They added: “This level of indifference was not expected after waiting so many months.”
Celebrity chef and LGBTQ activist Suvir Saran said. At the same time, the Supreme Court “didn’t give us the right to marry. It has used the bench as a classroom to educate legislators and the citizens about homosexuality and the other.”
LGBTQ Rights Recognized
Justice S. Ravindra Bhat acknowledged that LGBTQ couples can choose their partners and celebrate their commitment to each other within the social realm. However, he noted that this recognition doesn’t extend to providing legal entitlements or legal status for same-sex unions or relationships.
India’s marriage laws currently prevent LGBTQ couples from accessing legal benefits tied to matrimony, including adoption, insurance, and inheritance issues. Several petitioners challenged these laws, taking their case to the Supreme Court.
One of the petitioners, Susan Dias, expressed disappointment with the verdict but remained hopeful. While the ruling government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opposed legalizing same-sex marriages, the LGBTQ activists welcomed the judgment as a progressive step, even though some considered it “diplomatic.”
The Complex History of LGBTQ Rights in India
India has a significant LGBTQ community, and the country celebrates gay pride in cities across the nation. However, attitudes toward same-sex relationships have been complexly influenced by historical factors.
While Hindu mythology includes men transforming into women, and holy texts mention third-gender characters, same-sex intercourse was criminalized. Marriage rights were limited to heterosexual couples under a penal code introduced by India’s British colonial rulers in 1860.
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the colonial-era law that criminalized same-sex intercourse. Still, it preserved the legislation limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.
Despite the challenges, surveys have shown a growing acceptance of homosexuality in India. According to a Pew survey, 53% of people believe homosexuality should be accepted, representing a significant increase from previous years.
Conservatives within India continue to oppose same-sex unions, citing procreation as the primary purpose of marriage. However, this ruling by the Supreme Court has underscored the LGBTQ community’s right to equality in various aspects of life.
A New Era
The Supreme Court’s verdict may not have legalized same-sex marriage. Still, it marks a significant milestone in recognizing the rights and equality of LGBTQ individuals. As India continues to evolve, this ruling provides hope for a more inclusive and diverse society that respects all its citizens’ rights and relationships.