Enterprise-Record (Chico)

Indian gay couples begin legal battle for same-sex marriage

- By Sheikh Saaliq

NEW DELHI >> Utkarsh Saxena and Ananya Kotia’s love story began just like any other college romance. Except no one else knew about the gay couple’s relationsh­ip.

It was 2008. Homosexual­ity was yet to gain a degree of acceptance in deeply conservati­ve India, with many gay couples facing stigma and isolation. So Saxena and Kotia took their time, watching from a distance how people’s acceptance of homosexual­ity was changing.

“We were actually quite scared about the consequenc­es,” said Saxena, a public policy scholar at the University of Oxford. “We were very fragile and vulnerable, a young couple figuring out ourselves, and didn’t want, you know, something as drastic as this to break us in some sense.”

Over the years, as Indian society became more accepting of homosexual­ity and much of the country’s LGBTQ community began celebratin­g their sexuality openly, the couple decided to make their relationsh­ip known to their friends and family. Most of them were accepting.

Now, 15 years into their relationsh­ip, they have set out for a bigger challenge and filed a petition to India’s Supreme Court that seeks the legalizati­on of same-sex marriage. Three other gay couples have filed similar petitions that will be heard by the country’s top court in March.

If legalized, India would become the second economy in Asia after Taiwan to recognize same-sex marriage, a significan­t right for the country’s LGBTQ community more than four years after the top court decriminal­ized gay sex. A favorable ruling would also make India the biggest democracy with such rights for LGBTQ couples but run counter to the ruling Hindu nationalis­t government’s position, which opposes same-sex marriages.

“Our relationsh­ip has been, in a social sense, undefined for so long that we would like it to now be embraced in the same way as any other couples’ relationsh­ip,” Saxena said.

Legal rights for LGBTQ people in India have been expanding over the past decade, and most of these changes have come through the Supreme Court’s interventi­on.

In 2014, the court legally recognized non-binary or transgende­r persons as a “third gender” and three years later made an individual’s sexual orientatio­n an essential attribute of their privacy. The historic ruling in 2018 that struck down a colonial-era law that had made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison expanded constituti­onal rights for the gay community. The decision was seen as a landmark victory for gay rights, with one judge saying it would “pave the way for a better future.”

Despite this progress, legal recognitio­n of samesex marriage has been met with resistance by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

 ?? ALTAF QADRI — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Indian gay couple Utkarsh Saxena, left, and Ananya Kotia, chat inside a public park in New Delhi, India, on Jan. 18.
ALTAF QADRI — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Indian gay couple Utkarsh Saxena, left, and Ananya Kotia, chat inside a public park in New Delhi, India, on Jan. 18.

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