In a decision that has left LGBTQ+ Indians disheartened but undeterred, the Supreme Court recently opted not to legalize same-sex marriages. This ruling, which transfers the contentious issue to the realm of parliamentary deliberation, has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the hopes of millions of LGBTQ+ individuals in the world’s most populous country. It comes five years after the same court finally abolished a colonial-era ban on gay sex, marking a significant milestone in LGBTQ+ rights.
Moreover, the Supreme Court’s ruling also disallows same-sex couples from adopting children. The ramifications of this decision are deeply felt by those in the LGBTQ+ community who aspire to build families and provide loving homes for children.
Despite this setback, the LGBTQ+ community in India remains determined to march forward towards equality. One individual, Saattvic, who goes by a single name, a gay Indian man residing in Vancouver, Canada, expressed his disappointment with the court’s decision. He felt compelled to leave his home country to live in a place where same-sex marriage is recognized and respected. “I feel sad that my own country will not yet have me as I am, and will not treat me as an equal… I hope that changes soon,” said Saattvic, one of more than a dozen petitioners in the case, who dreams of marrying his partner in a traditional Indian ceremony surrounded by friends and family.
While the court has accepted the government’s proposal to establish a panel to consider certain non-marital rights for same-sex couples, such as access to services and facilities like joint bank accounts and pensions, it has raised concerns within the LGBTQ+ community. Without clarity regarding the composition of the panel and a timeline for parliament to formulate a law, many see this offer as “completely hollow.”
The government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, opposed the petitions to the court, asserting that same-sex marriage does not align with the traditional Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife, and children. This stance suggests that parliament may be reluctant to support equal marriage in the near future, leaving LGBTQ+ couples at a disadvantage compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
The struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in India persists despite significant progress since the landmark 2018 ruling on gay sex. Discrimination and abuse continue to be pervasive, hindering access to employment, healthcare, education, and housing for LGBTQ+ individuals. Even basic rights, such as the ability to rent homes or make medical decisions for one another in emergencies, remain elusive for many gay couples due to their lack of marital status.
Parul, a finance professional, and her partner have taken the precaution of granting each other power of attorney in case hospitals refuse to recognize them as next-of-kin during health emergencies. Like many same-sex couples, they had hoped for a Supreme Court decision that would eliminate these obstacles and allow them to marry in India. However, with the court’s decision on marriage, they are now considering marrying in Denmark, uncertain of whether their marriage certificate will be acknowledged for joint bank accounts or insurance schemes in India.
Despite the disappointment surrounding the court’s decision on marriage, some campaigners find solace in positive observations made by the judges. For instance, the court affirmed that transgender individuals in heterosexual relationships can marry under existing laws. This recognition provides a glimmer of hope for progress in LGBTQ+ rights.
Padma Iyer, the mother of Harish Iyer, an outspoken gay rights activist and one of the petitioners in the case, maintains an optimistic outlook. As the co-founder of Rainbow Parents, a collective of parents of LGBTQ+ children, she initiated a nationwide dialogue on gay marriage eight years ago when she placed an advertisement in a Mumbai newspaper seeking a groom for her son. Padma understands that the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over. She states, “We can’t rest. We know what the struggle is going to be for our children.” The quest for peace and equality for the LGBTQ+ community in India continues, undaunted by setbacks along the way.