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Breaking Barriers: Why Marriage Equality Deserves Recognition in India

If you are someone who does not support marriage rights, I hope this article gives you some understanding of why we need them and how it is the most basic right that should not be dwindled anymore.

This year, the Supreme Court started hearing petitions from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, ad queer (LGBTQ+) petitioners seeking same-sex marriage equality. The hearings are being extensively covered by the media in India, and one can even go through the well-updated and informative threads on Twitter to get the updates. In India, the ‘accepted view’ of marriage is between a biological man and a woman, as it is considered a “holy union, a sacrament, and Sanskar (culture).” Many people hold the view that marriage other than the ‘holy union’ is not marriage but merely a joke or a phase that will pass, even though the institution of marriage is of fundamental importance in Indian society. You must have encountered such comments in every Indian family function (weddings, meet and greet) that one is unmarried and should be by now. It significantly implies the fact that marriage is one of the highlights of becoming an adult. Remaining single or having a live-in relationship with your partner is frowned upon by Indian society, as married couples are usually seen as more responsible and respectable.

Therefore, excluding LGBTQ+ people from marriage excludes them from the full benefits of participating in family and community life. It excludes them from acceptance in society. Why is there controversy about two LGBTQ+ people taking vows in front of family, friends, and colleagues? Why can’t they be identified as spouses under the law? Let us examine some of the arguments first.

Citizens with Equal Rights

As we discussed earlier, it is argued that legalizing queer marriages will distort the concept of family, which is considered the “fundamental building block of society.” But I do not understand how the marriage between two queer people takes anything away from heterosexual couples. Are we not the most privileged people ever, with never-ending rights and no one to question us or get offended? Marriage does not only help LGBTQ+ people gain respect and recognition from their family and community, but it also benefits them in tangible and intangible ways. Now, one may think that it's just marriage and question why it’s so beneficial. The reason is that marriage makes your relationship official. 

Tangible benefits include the ability to open joint bank accounts, jointly buy or rent a property, jointly own, and share financial assets, be recognized as a relative under the Indian Income Tax Act, access a spouse’s health and life insurance, and inherit a spouse’s assets if one partner dies. These are essential and fundamental rights that come with marriage, and most heterosexual couples take them for granted, but they are completely and utterly denied to people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community. Intangible benefits include gaining respect and acceptance from your own family and friends. 

Now, you may wonder, is Indian society ready for such a big change? Despite it being a fundamental right, I do not think Indian society is ready, but public opinion has shaped a lot in the private sector over the span of the last five years. Leading companies' human resource (HR) practices have progressed a long way since the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexual acts by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2018.

A legitimate legal need

As a woman, I find marriage a faulty institution, but despite that, it is the need of the hour for LGBTQ+ people. Many leading companies have established a policy of fairness, equality, and non-discrimination for their LGBTQ+ employees. Some also extend benefits such as spousal health insurance to same-sex partners of their employees, but these policies have been challenging to implement because insurance companies have determined that same-sex partners are not legally recognised as spouses.

These inclusive policies and support from the companies have not led to any negative consequences or backlash from the majority workforce, but rather the opposite. Introducing inclusive policies and celebrating diversity have resulted in more engagement and loyalty from the employees as they feel safe at the workplace, a feeling they may not get at home.

The argument here is not to create a better workplace but to create a sense of belonging at home as well. Marriage equality means everything in the lives of LGBTQ+ couples seeking this fundamental right.

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