After historic Section 377 verdict, govt set to oppose same-sex marriage
A day after the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people say the next step in the legal fight will be for civil rights such as same-sex marriage, inheritance of property, and sharing insurance, among others.
But the Union government, which left it to the court to decide on section 377, has indicated that it is likely to oppose any petition for same-sex marriage.
“If equality of LGBTQ persons is now a fundamental right, then right to marry, bequeath property, share insurance (medical and life) are all part of this. We are asking for rights respect and dignity and it is unconstitutional and impudent to deny that. I am astounded at people who say that we cannot get these rights,” said Sunil Mehra, a petitioner in the section 377 case.
A government functionary, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “Decriminalisation of same-sex acts was fine but the government would oppose any demand to legalise same-sex marriage.”
The same stand was echoed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fount of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. “Same-sex marriages are not compatible with norms of nature, so we don’t support them. Bharatiya society doesn’t have the tradition of recognising such relations,” said RSS spokesperson Arun Kumar.
The 493-page SC judgment on Thursday had spoken at length about how social norms cannot regulate constitutional liberties and affirmed the rights of the community without going into the question of civil rights. The government counsel in July had asked the court to limit itself to Section 377, and not expand to civil rights.
Over the past decade, many queer and trans individuals have got married in community ceremonies while others have moved to countries that recognise same-sex marriages in order to marry their partner. In fact, one of the petitioners before the SC in the Section 377 case spoke of how he planned to move abroad for marriage. In other countries, such as the US and the UK, legalisation of same-sex relationships has been followed by legal recognition of same-sex marriage, adoption, inheritance among other rights.
Keshav Suri, executive director of Delhi-based Lalit Suri Hospitality Group that operates the Lalit chain of hotels, who married his partner Cryril Feuillbois in Paris in June, said, “It’s unfair that I have more rights in his country than in the country we have chosen to call our home. I am an equal citizen in that country, but he is not one in mine. But yesterday gave us hope, and made me proud to be an Indian. I am considering filing a petition regarding some of these issues.”
The Congress welcomed the reading down of Section 377 on Thursday. When asked on Friday about their position on wider civil rights, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “It is for the government to formulate a position. We will respond accordingly.”
Marriage and sexual assault are seen as weapons used against queer people as a means to ‘correct’ their sexuality. It is necessary that the government ensures its citizens are protected from such violence, the SC said.
Anand Grover, a senior Supreme Court advocate and a lawyer in the case, agreed that the question of civil rights was likely to come up soon but added that it was a wide gamut of issues – from workplace discrimination in the private sector and anti-sexual harassment statutes to rape laws and marriage, adoption and property rights. “The demand has to come from the community. We should be ready, and we will be a part of the case,” he said.
Gautam Yadav, one of the petitioners, said the fight for civil rights will start afresh but at the moment everyone is busy celebrating. “Decriminalising Section 377 is the first step. Marriage and other civil rights is the second,” he said.