Ensure that rights are accorded to all
The top court has nudged progress through its ruling that queer couples or unmarried partners are entitled not only to the protection of law, but also to benefits under social welfare legislation.
The transformation of society is often reflected through the changing nature of the family unit. It is, thus, crucial that legal and administrative authorities take cognisance of how traditional structures of families are only ephemeral and move to limit bias against alternative forms of kinship. The Supreme Court took a big step in this direction this week when a two-judge bench ruled that queer couples or unmarried partners are entitled not only to the protection of law, but also to benefits under social welfare legislation. Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna emphasised that the letter of the law must not be used to put non-traditional families in a perilous position and that the traditional expectation of a family – mother, father and children – may be subverted not only by changing circumstances but also by shifting social mores.
This is promising. Despite several judicial rulings – and a landmark apex court judgment in 2017 that guaranteed the right to privacy as a fundamental right – non-traditional family structures continue to battle hurdles in accessing education, financial services, and health care. Children of single parents, or unmarried people in domestic partnerships will attest to unhelpful, hostile behaviour, for basic tasks – getting school admissions, renting a house, or interactions with government servants. Queer people find it tough to open joint bank accounts, find housing, take out loans or safeguard their financial, emotional and mental health with documentation. The court has nudged progress. It is now up to the government, and laypeople, to ensure that rights are accorded to all, not only to those who look and behave in conformity with some idea or code.