Indian couples fight to legalise same-sex marriages
March 10, 2023 03:47 PM
When Abhay Dang and Supriyo Chakraborty had their big Indian wedding under high security two years ago, the gay couple's marriage was not legally recognised -- but it soon could be.
From Monday, five years after it decriminalised gay sex, India's top court will begin hearing a clutch of petitions seeking official recognition of same-sex unions.
"Whatever basket of rights marriage provides, which heterosexual couples completely take for granted, for us same-sex couples, we did not have those rights," Dang, a software manager in the southern city of Hyderabad, told AFP.
The couple filed a lawsuit to demand such rights and when the court decided to hear their petition, Dang was in tears of joy.
"It was something that we were dreaming of for quite some time," the 36-year-old said.
Several other couples have done the same, and the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to take up all the petitions in one case.
"Our relationship is just as real as any other relationship. Why should we be denied those rights?" said Chakraborty, who runs an event management company.
Both men married without legal sanction in 2021, picking a venue far from the city for fear of disruption if word got out.
"There was police protection, there were bouncers. We didn't want to take any risk," Chakraborty, 32, told AFP at the couple's home.
The men have been together for a decade but say they are "just strangers" in the eyes of the law, with few of the rights enjoyed by straight married Indians.
- Second in Asia -
LGBTQ rights in India have expanded in recent years and, if the current case is successful, the country would become only the second Asian jurisdiction after Taiwan to recognise same-sex unions.
In 2014, transgender people were given official recognition as a "third gender" and three years later India's top court recognised sexual orientation as protected under a fundamental right to privacy.
A year later came the landmark ruling striking down a colonial-era law that banned gay sex, and last year the court ruled that unmarried partners or same-sex couples were entitled to welfare benefits.
But the LGBTQ community continues to face resistance in the country of 1.4 billion people, including from religious groups and India's Hindu nationalist government.
Last year a Supreme Court panel unanimously recommended Saurabh Kirpal, who is openly gay, become a high court judge -- but the government objected.
It cited national security concerns, including his sexual orientation and his "intimate relationship" with a foreigner, a court statement said in January.
- 'Complete havoc' -
Even if the court rules in favour of recognition for same-sex unions, there could still be roadblocks from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.
Last year ruling-party lawmaker Sushil Modi said that "same-sex marriage would cause complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country".
He said that "family, children and the upbringing of children" would be affected.
But fathers Mayank Kalra and Sougata Basu say their "household is as regular, as full of love, as anybody else's".
They had two children via surrogacy before the law changed in 2021, banning the practice for the LGBTQ community and unmarried partners.
The couple, who live in the southern city of Bengaluru with their parents and bouncy toddlers, have had their fair share of problems.
"Once we had taken (the children) for a regular check-up and they were hungry. (The nurse) said 'Ask the mother to take them to feed'," said Kalra, 33.
"I said 'There is no mother, we can feed them with the bottles'."
The couple said that having same-sex marriages recognised would help social acceptance and normalisation of gay couples with children.
"Marriage is not an act of procreation... Marriage is an act of two people who are in love wanting to spend their lives with love, responsibility and care for each other," said Basu, 38.
Aware of the opposition to same-sex unions, the couple said it was difficult to force a change of mindset in those who did not want a healthy debate.
"As members of the community, our job is to spread love," Basu said.
"We are what we are. We have been there and we will continue to be here and will continue to flourish."