India's Supreme Court weighs in on same-sex marriage
Vancouver couple are among many plaintiffs challenging same-sex marriage #x27;prohibition in the largest democracy in the world.
Activists for same-sex marriage march in the streets during the New Delhi Pride Parade last January.
India's Supreme Court will hear a series of cases challenging the same-sex marriage ban on Monday.
If the country's highest court rules to legalize same-sex marriage, India will become the second country in Asia to legalize gay marriage, after Taiwan.
As the largest democracy in the world and the second most populous country on the planet, its influence elsewhere in the world could also be considerable.
So far, the majority of 32 entities that have already passed marriage equality laws are in America and Europe.
According to the plaintiffs – several same-sex couples – the Special Marriage Act, which refers to husband and wife, violates several articles of the Indian Constitution.
They allege that the law dating from 1954, and which celebrates marriage outside of religion, should allow same-sex couples to have the same legal right to marriage as heterosexual couples.
Other petitions also touch on the Marriage Abroad Act, governing unions where at least one spouse is Indian.
[The law] should refer to "spouses" to encompass people regardless of their sex or gender identity, alleges Jayna Kothari, an attorney who represents three plaintiffs in one of the Supreme Court cases.
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So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, in power since 2014, has refused to legalize same-sex marriage.
In a document filed Sunday in the Supreme Court , the Indian government said the court could not be asked to change the entire legislative policy of the country, which is deeply rooted in religious and societal norms.
However, the Supreme Court is not at the tail of the government. Already in 2018, she spoke out to decriminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, believing that the British law, dating from colonial times, was unconstitutional.
Attorney Jayna Kothari, co-founder of India Center for Law and Policy Research, is representing some of the plaintiffs in the case.
According to Jayna Kothari, the decision, history, was only the beginning. LGBTQ+ people must now access full recognition of their rights as citizens.
Decriminalization only really makes sense if positive rights are granted, she says, which includes the right to have a family, the right to have property, the right to adopt.
Gaurav Bhatti, an Indo-Canadian, and his partner, Saattvic, moved to Vancouver in 2020, tired of waiting for LGBTQ+ rights to evolve in India.
Even if he has the right to marry in Canada, the couple wish to organize a ceremony in India in the presence of his family.
Saattvic, who is an Indian citizen, is among the plaintiffs whose file was transferred to the Supreme Court.
I do it for those young people who live in the villages and who have no way of expressing themselves, he says. This is to give them a chance to live their lives with dignity.
Saattvic (at right) moved to Canada with her partner, Gaurav Bhatti (left), because LGBTQ+ rights in India were moving too slowly for her liking.
Saattvic, a former actor turned economist, believes that discrimination against gay people, often educated and able to leave the country, leads to a brain drain.
These same people will get up and go if you don't give them equal rights, and that has consequences for the whole economy, he says.
The economist cites a World Bank study from 2014, estimating that India was sacrificing up to 1.7% of its GDP at the time due to factors related to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
A Supreme Court victory over same-sex marriage could take time to materialize, however, believes Sukhdeep Singh, founder and director of India's Gaylaxy magazine.
Any social change takes time to get to a point where it gets better, he explains.
According to journalist Sukhdeep Singh, founder and director of the LGBTQ website Gaylaxy, a victory would not benefit everyone as much . Poorer women still risk being left behind.
The reporter expects a backlash from more conservative politicians and religious groups if the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage.
An MP, Sushil Kumar Modi, recently spoke out against gay marriage, saying it would cause havoc.
Ultimately, however, Sukhdeep Singh believes that' ;a victory would have positive repercussions elsewhere in Asia and around the world.