In a significant development, India is deliberating the extension of equal financial rights and legal protection to the LGBTQ community. However, it is noteworthy that the legalization of same-sex marriage is not currently on the legislative agenda, despite the Supreme Court’s assertion that the responsibility for this decision rests with parliament. This move aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s stance, which has consistently opposed such initiatives, according to undisclosed government sources.
The country’s top court recently refrained from issuing a verdict, emphasizing that the decision on the legalization of same-sex marriage should be made by the parliament. This decision reflects the government’s belief that the legislature is the appropriate forum for addressing this contentious issue. Despite this, the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government remains steadfast in its opposition to the petitions brought before the court.
During the court proceedings, the government extended an offer to establish a committee dedicated to addressing the “human concerns” of same-sex couples. This committee is expected to comprise legal experts, LGBTQ activists, and theologians, say the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to their lack of authorization to discuss the matter with the media.
“The mandate of the committee will be to examine all aspects of legal protection for the LGBTQ population and explore measures to enhance their quality of life,” shared one source, a senior policymaker in the federal law ministry. However, it is essential to clarify that discussions related to same-sex marriage will not fall within the committee’s purview, as it necessitates the full endorsement of all religious groups, the source emphasized.
Another senior bureaucrat within the law ministry stated that the committee will focus on matters such as inheritance rights, financial security, and medico-legal protections for the LGBTQ community. Nevertheless, neither source provided a timeline for when the committee is expected to be established.
As of now, the law ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office have not issued any official comments on this matter. The LGBTQ community’s struggle for equal rights in India has been a protracted one, and this latest development suggests that lawmakers may soon commence discussions in parliament. However, gay rights activists express frustration at the lengthy process, noting that achieving full equality remains an arduous journey.
Supriyo Chakraborty, the primary petitioner in the Supreme Court case, remarked, “We went through extensive efforts to secure equal rights, and now we find ourselves relying on the government to attain complete equality.”
Challenges Surrounding Same-Sex Marriage
While India’s top court decriminalized homosexuality in a landmark 2018 verdict by abolishing a colonial-era ban on gay sex, the topic of same-sex marriage continues to be a sensitive and taboo subject in this socially conservative nation of 1.4 billion people. While the 2018 ruling reaffirmed the constitutional rights of LGBTQ individuals, they still lack legal recognition for marriages, a fundamental right enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
The petitioners who advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriage argued that without legal recognition, they are deprived of essential rights, including those related to medical consent, pension benefits, adoption, and even mundane aspects like club memberships for couples.
In seeking a broader perspective, the committee will consult religious experts to gauge whether religious institutions accept or reject same-sex couples. The law ministry bureaucrat emphasized, “Every stakeholder’s viewpoints will be documented before initiating any discussions in parliament.” It is worth noting that nearly one thousand religious organizations have made representations, with a majority expressing opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage.