In a landmark ruling on 17th October, India's Supreme Court left the nation's LGBTQ+ community in a state of uncertainty as it declined to recognize the validity of same-sex marriage. The decision by a five-member bench, consisting of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Ravindra Bhat, Justice Hima Kohli, and Justice PS Narasimha, has highlighted the ongoing struggle for equal rights and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the country.
Thue ruling came after a series of civil petitions were presented before the bench, prompting a division of views among the justices. While the bench acknowledged the existence of queerness as a natural and age-old phenomenon, they maintained that the role of the court is to interpret existing laws, not to create new ones. Chief Justice Chandrachud emphasized that it is ultimately up to the Indian Parliament to amend the laws, including the Special Marriage Act, to accommodate the LGBTQ+ community's rights.
The decision has been met with mixed reactions, with LGBTQ+ advocates and supporters expressing their disappointment. Many had hoped for a more progressive interpretation of the law to grant same-sex couples the legal right to marry. In contrast, conservative and religious groups have applauded the court's decision, arguing that traditional marriage norms should be upheld.
Despite the setback in recognizing same-sex marriages, the Supreme Court made an important stipulation in its ruling. The bench directed the central government, as well as states and Union Territories, to ensure that the queer community is not discriminated against. This directive is seen as a step toward preventing discrimination and promoting LGBTQ+ rights in India.
The LGBTQ+ rights movement in India has been steadily gaining momentum in recent years. The Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday, while disappointing to many, has not deterred the activists and supporters who continue to push for equality and inclusivity. It is expected that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies will intensify their efforts to advocate for legislative changes and legal recognition of same-sex marriages in India.
While this verdict falls short of recognizing same-sex marriages, it does not represent the final word on the issue. The ongoing dialogue surrounding LGBTQ+ rights is likely to persist, and the fight for equal marriage rights will continue in both the legal and social arenas. The Supreme Court's decision highlights the need for a broader discussion and reform in Indian society regarding LGBTQ+ rights and same-sex marriage.
This decision has dashed the hopes of millions of LGBTQ+ people seeking marriage equality. Instead, the court accepted the government's proposal to establish a panel to consider granting more legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples.
The ruling comes after a thorough examination of 21 petitions by same-sex couples and activists, which were heard extensively by a five-judge bench during April and May. These deliberations were "live streamed in public interest" and sparked intense public interest and debate.
The petitioners argued that the inability to marry violated their constitutional rights and relegated them to "second-class citizens." They suggested that the court could amend the Special Marriage Act, which currently allows inter-religious and inter-caste marriages, by replacing "man" and "woman" with "spouse" to include same-sex unions.
Opposing these petitions were the government and religious leaders, who contended that only the Indian Parliament had the authority to discuss the socio-legal issue of marriage. They further argued that allowing same-sex marriage would lead to societal "chaos."
On Tuesday, the court agreed with the government's stance, asserting that it is the prerogative of the Parliament to create laws, while the court's role is to interpret them. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta's proposal to set up a committee, led by the country's top bureaucrat, to consider "granting queer couples" rights and privileges available to heterosexual couples was accepted by the court.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, along with another judge, favored granting civil union status and the same "benefits that married people enjoy" to same-sex couples. Chief Justice Chandrachud issued a list of directions to the government, emphasizing the need to end all discrimination against the "queer community" and protect them from harassment and violence. He also noted that "queer and unmarried couples" should be allowed to jointly adopt a child. However, these directives were not supported by the majority of the bench, effectively rendering them non-binding.
The court's decision has left activists and same-sex couples disappointed, as they had hoped for a more progressive outcome. Gay rights activist Sharif Rangnekar expressed his disappointment, stating, "The decision to leave it all to a government committee with no timeline for when it is to be set up or when it would provide us with rights leaves us in the hands of lots of bureaucratic uncertainty. It is very worrying."
The debate over same-sex marriage in India has garnered considerable attention, especially in a country estimated to have tens of millions of LGBTQ+ individuals. While the Indian government reported 2.5 million LGBTQ+ people in 2012, global estimates suggest a number closer to 135 million, or more than 10% of the entire population.
The Supreme Court's ruling, while disappointing to many, does not mark the end of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in India. Activists and same-sex couples remain committed to advocating for legislative changes and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. The court's decision underscores the ongoing need for a broader societal dialogue on LGBTQ+ rights and the future of same-sex marriage in India.
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