Indian gay couples begin legal battle for same-sex marriage
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.