On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment upholding the dignity and self-respect of the LGBTQIA+ community. And now the top court of India is set to pen yet another defining chapter in the marriage equality case.
While decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, quoting David AJ Richards, said,
"This “institutionalized expression to love” must be considered an important element in the full actualisation of the ideal of self-respect. Social institutions must be arranged in such a manner that individuals have the freedom to enter into relationships untrammelled by binary of sex and gender and receive the requisite institutional recognition to perfect their relationships."
Five years later, the Supreme Court of India has a chance to pave the way for marriage equality in India. A favourable verdict would go a long way in the LGBTQIA+ community’s crusade for acceptance and equal rights in society.
And it seems that queer persons from all walks of life are optimistic that the verdict might just meet their expectations.
Karan Kapoor, 34, is a real estate consultant who feels that the work done on the marriage equality case was commendable on a lot of levels.
“With the kind of diversity in cultures across India, one had to frame a broader picture and to preview the case under Special Marriage Act is one such step. I not only hope for the verdict to fall on our side, but at the same time, hope it opens up a larger discussion on the rights to privacy, life and equality,” says Kapoor.
He emphasises that a favourable verdict would encourage more oppressed voices to come out to fight for more such struggles in the future.
"All those voices have to be included; the struggles of transpersons, the struggles of gay youth in smaller towns, the queer dialogue in the urban areas- the landscape and collage of all-under one shade, protected by the Constitution of India. An uphill task, but a universal one,” he adds.
Artist Aditya Raj, 32, and entrepreneur Vikas Narula, 46, have been together for seven years. They underlined that the marriage equality case is not only about the institution of marriage, but also everything that comes with it.
“If two people live together and want to marry, they should have that right. Besides, the right to property, inheritance, getting joint bank accounts, pretty much everything that was covered by the lawyers during the court proceedings,” says the couple.
The couple, who lives in their own apartment in a posh South Delhi neighbourhood, still faces prejudice at the hands of their neighbours and others.
“All the rights that kind of come with the right to marry are pretty important. We’ve been together for seven years and used to live in a rented house before. But now, even when we own our own house, there are many micro-aggressions and homophobia when it comes to two men living together,” shares Raj.
People still find the proposition of two men living together as illegal, the couple feels. Therefore, the marriage equality judgment could help recognising such relationships as “completely normal” and change people's perspectives.
“The general consensus is that it [the verdict] might be positive, but it might not be marriage, but a civil partnership at the most, and that's not ideal. Nevertheless, it will be a great step forward,” they say.
A verdict in favour of the community, however, would benefit the community in fighting social prejudices, the couples feels.
“And that kind of takes away all the stigma attached to these kind of relationships, because people are harassed by the worst of profanities. This is what the police and authorities do. Legal sanction can put us at a pedestal like any other person and bring about a change among authorities,” it adds.
Activist and founder of Gay Bombay Bhalachandra Ramiah, 56, feels that if not marriage rights, the verdict may recognise the legal rights of LGBTQIA+ couples as partners.
“I understand that it is for the legislature to bring in some laws to regulate same-sex marriages, but yes, looking at the observations during the hearings, the constitution of the bench, and the very progressive thoughts of judges, I, and in fact the entire community, is optimistic and we expect some positive news from the Supreme Court,” he says.
Ramiah views it as a “very significant issue” for the community, for it entails recognition of people as partners.
“It will decide the future of the community,” he adds.
Vicky Shinde is a trans activist, who recently featured in a Bollywood movie. For her, allowing same-sex marriages could come as a blessing, especially for the trans community.
Shinde highlights that members of the trans community do not have proper employment and are compelled to take up sex work.
“We need support, not only financially, but also emotionally in order to lead our lives on par with heterosexuals. Therefore, if we get a proper life partner, we will be taken care of. Also, we will not have to resort to sex work or beg at traffic signals as our lives would be a bit stable,” says 40-year-old Shinde.
There are, however, members in the community who do not believe in the institution of marriage.
“I am actually against the institution of marriage after I see the issues of the marriages of heterosexual couples,” says 76-year-old Ashok Row Kavi, founder of Humssafar Trust.
The way heterosexual couples separate and the reasons why they separate are factors driving Kavi’s belief.
Kavi clarifies that he is not against same-sex marriage, and wants LGBTQIA+ members to have equality before the law.
"But people are seeking to marry for materialistic reasons like mediclaim, insurance policies, bank accounts etc. Also, before seeking the right to marry, the community must understand its responsibility. I say so because of the issues we see day-in and day-out in the community such as the rising number of HIV patients, gay men marrying women, and so many other issues,” he argues.
With the community expecting a favourable outcome, it is only a matter of time when speculations are put to rest — hopefully with a verdict that echoes with the sentiments of those who have been striving for a more secured and dignified way of living.