Out in the World: India court begins hearing on same-sex marriage case

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday April 24, 2023
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Out in the World: India court begins hearing on same-sex marriage case

India's Supreme Court has started hearing oral arguments on a landmark same-sex marriage case, but the proceeding was postponed after one of the judges became sick with COVID.

Hearings scheduled before the five-judge Constitution Bench April 23 were canceled, the India Times reported. Another judge hearing the case had a minor fall but is recovering, the paper reported.

India's government had called for the court to dismiss the same-sex marriage case ahead of the hearing that started April 18.

The Bay Area Reporter reported last month the Supreme Court sent the consolidated same-sex marriage case to a five-judge Constitution Bench. Four couples are serving as the main plaintiffs in the case, representing 18 couples, three of which have children together, reported the BBC.

The plaintiffs claim discrimination and are insisting on having the same rights as straight married couples, such as sharing a bank account, inheritance, property, making medical decisions for their partners, adoption rights, and parental rights, among other rights.

Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud is heading the five-judge bench. Chandrachud was sworn in as the court's 50th chief justice November 9, 2022. He was also one of the justices that repealed Section 377, the British colonial-era law that was used to criminalize homosexuality. While delivering his judgment for 377 in 2018, Chandrachud said that the case was much more than decriminalizing a provision.

The same-sex marriage hearings are expected to go for at least two weeks, reported The Guardian.

On April 17, the day before the hearings opened, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, filed a 102-page affidavit in which it stated that the petitions "merely reflect urban elitist views" and called for the case to be "dismissed," in support of "traditional" marriage between a man and a woman, reported The Guardian and Reuters.

"The petitions, which merely reflect urban elitist views, cannot be compared with the appropriate legislature which reflects the views and voices of [a] far wider spectrum and expands across the country," the government stated in a filing to the Supreme Court that was seen by Reuters.

The government went on to claim that "such a decision should be made by parliament not the courts," reported The Guardian.

India's religious communities — Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Sikh, and Christian — also joined forces in a rare alliance opposing same-sex marriage, reported the BBC.

In an open letter last month, 21 retired high court judges also opposed same-sex marriage, stating it would have a "devastating impact" on children, families, and society.

In contrast, India's 7,000-member mental health professional organization, the Indian Psychiatric Society, came out in support of the LGBTQ community in an April 9 statement.

"Homosexuality is not a disease," the IPS stated, adding that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people could "lead to mental health issues in them."

The case is being argued by a who's who of India's queer and ally lawyers, such as queer legal eagle Menaka Guruswamy, one of the lawyers who was also at the forefront of the decriminalization of homosexuality case in 2018; and gay lawyer Saurabh Kirpal. The lawyers are targeting India's Special Marriage Act of 1954, one of India's five separate marriage laws governing Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Muslims (which is largely not codified), and the aforementioned secular code, the Special Marriage Act. The Special Marriage Act allows marriages between people of different castes and religions.

"It's about fundamental rights of citizens," Rohin Bhatt, a lawyer fighting the case who identifies as queer, told The Guardian. "What we are asking for as queer people in this country is merely that the rights which exist for heterosexual couples be extended to us; nothing more and nothing less."

If the Supreme Court grants marriage equality it will make India the largest democracy in the world and the second country in Asia, after Taiwan, to legalize same-sex marriage. It will also make India the 35th country in the world to legally recognize same-sex couples' marriages, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The hearings are available on YouTube: Day 1, April 18, Day 2, April 19, and Day 3, April 20 and here.

It is unclear how the judges will rule or when the decision will come.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

A five-judge Constitution Bench in India has started hearing a landmark same-sex marriage case. Photo: AFP

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