Gay couples in India are asking the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage

[1/2] Parth Phiroze Mehrotra, 36, and his partner Uday Raj Anand, 35, smile as they pose for a photo at their home in New Delhi, India, on December 18, 2022. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

NEW DELHI, December 19 (Reuters) – Four gay couples have petitioned India’s Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages, setting the stage for a legal battle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has refused in the past to to legalize such marriages.

In a historic ruling in 2018, India’s top court decriminalized homosexuality by overturning a colonial-era ban on gay sex.

Despite the 2018 ruling, members of India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have complained of a lack of acceptance and discrimination against gay people in Indian society.

LGBT activists say that while the 2018 ruling upheld their constitutional rights, they are still deprived of legal support for same-sex marriage, a basic right enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

In three Supreme Court filings viewed by Reuters, the couples say that without the legal recognition of the marriage, they are denied rights such as

Attorneys and a court document confirmed that a fourth motion of a similar nature was also filed with the court.

“We can’t do that many things in the process of living together and building a life together,” said one of the litigants, businessman Uday Raj Anand, who is planning to marry his partner Parth Mehrotra, editor-in-chief of India’s Juggernaut Books.

Another couple, Supriyo Chakraborty and Abhay Dang, say in their post that last year they held a two-day commitment ceremony like any other “Big Fat Indian Wedding,” but as the euphoria faded, they realized that as couples, they didn’t have one could take out health insurance or nominate each other in life insurance policies.

“The truth is, they have no rights at all,” the filing says.

The four gay couples want a Supreme Court ruling that changes or interprets laws to allow same-sex marriages, court filings show.

It’s a touchy subject in the socially conservative country of 1.4 billion, where many find it taboo to speak openly about homosexuality.

The pleas have already sparked debate on prime-time TV news and spawned newspaper editorials on whether the time has come for the world’s largest democracy to join about three dozen countries where such marriages are legal.

The United States this month passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriages at the federal level to further protect gay rights.

The Indian Supreme Court cases, which follow many unruled lawsuits in lower courts, will be a crucial test for Modi’s Hindu nationalist government and its allies.

On Monday, a federal lawmaker from Modi’s party appealed to colleagues in the upper house of Parliament to oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

“Same-sex marriage will wreak havoc on the delicate balance of personal laws in the country… two judges cannot make a decision on this social issue,” said Sushil Modi, an MP for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). .

“Parliament and society have to debate it,” he said.

The Justice Department has opposed same-sex marriages in the past, saying the courts should stay away from the legislative process, which falls within the purview of Parliament.

In a filing in state court last year, the Justice Department said a marriage depended on “ancient customs (and) rituals” and that a sexual relationship between same-sex people “is not comparable to the Indian concept of family of a husband, a wife and children.” “

It added that marriage in India is “a solemn institution between a natural man and a natural woman”.

Three spokesmen for Modi’s BJP, who declined to be named as the matter goes to court, said the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage is the same as the government’s. However, they added that the party will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.

Modi’s office and the federal Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on whether their position on same-sex marriage has changed.

The Supreme Court has given the government until January 6 to present its answers.

“As the Supreme Court takes up the case, the issue of marriage equality is likely to be decided at an accelerated pace,” said Jayna Kothari, gender rights expert and co-founder of India’s Center for Law & policy research.

“A decision on same-sex marriage in the near future is inevitable. That will be a milestone.”

The couples are backed by high-profile lawyers, including a former Indian attorney general and another lawyer named Saurabh Kirpal, who is openly gay and in an interview last month accused Modi’s government of delaying his appointment as state judge because of his sexual orientation.

Kirpal and Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the comments.

Reporting by Arpan Chaturvedi and Rupam Jain in New Delhi; Edited by Aditya Kalra and Michael Perry

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In August 2022, the Supreme Court of India granted cohabiting couples, including homosexual couples, the same rights as married couples. This offers some semblance of equality in a country where the vast majority of Hindu marriages are not registered with the government.