India’s LGBT community has been fighting for equality for decades. While homosexuality was decriminalized in 2018, same-sex marriage is still illegal in India. This has left the country’s LGBT community feeling like “second-class citizens”, according to Kamalika Dasgupta, who left India for Canberra nine years ago.
Dasgupta’s experience of being forced to watch her girlfriend marry a man not only contributed to her mental health problems but also motivated her to leave India. While progress has been made in LGBT rights, marriage remains highly revered in India’s largely conservative and deeply religious society, and without that right, LGBT people feel like they are being discriminated against.
India’s Supreme Court is currently hearing petitions from LGBT couples fighting for legal same-sex marriage. The court decriminalized gay sex in 2018, but the government is strongly opposed to making any changes to the marriage act. The current Hindu nationalist government and the “religious police” make it difficult to imagine a large progressive shift, but there is hope.
The Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which allows marriages between people of different castes and religions, can be adapted to include LGBT people. The government, however, has already firmly stated its opposition to same-sex marriage and argued that the parliament, rather than the Supreme Court, should make decisions about the issue.
Despite the challenges, LGBT rights activists in India believe that any discussion about LGBT rights is a win. Abhijit Ghosh, a 43-year-old gay man from Ahmedabad, has been keeping his relationship secret for five years because his partner is still in the closet to protect his family. He believes that if the law recognizes same-sex marriage, society will accept it too.
Deepthi Kavati, a counselor working mainly with lesbian, transgender, and non-binary people in India, believes that the case is creating more visibility for LGBT people. The case is particularly important for those in smaller towns who might not have an awareness or understanding of how to validate their own identity.
While there is still a long way to go, this historic case represents a significant step forward in India’s LGBT rights movement. If the push is successful, India will become the second Asian jurisdiction, after Taiwan, to recognize same-sex unions.