Indian hopes for same-sex marriage dealt crushing blow as top government lawyer claims it ‘cannot be done’

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In India, hopes for same-sex marriage have grown distant after a top lawyer for the country’s federal government firmly opposed petitions to legalise it.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta made the declaration in the Delhi High Court at a hearing to determine whether same-sex marriage should be introduced under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) and Special Marriage Act.

Mehta definitively ruled this out, saying it would run contrary to existing Indian laws which simply do not allow for same-sex marriage.

“My legal take is that it is not permissible,” he said, as reported in The Times of India. “Our law, our legal system, our society, our values do not recognise a marriage, which is a sacrament, between same-sex couples. Unless court does violence to various laws, this cannot be done.”

However, the solicitor general added that he had not yet received instructions from the government on the issue. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist administration has declined to take a position on the issue and left the decision to the country’s top court.

The case for same-sex marriage was submitted as a public interest litigation (PIL) to determine whether legalising same-sex marriage is permissible if it is in the public interest.

But the two-judge panel judges questioned the need for the PIL, saying that those who “claim to be affected” are well educated and can approach the court on their own behalf.

“Why should we entertain the PIL?” the bench asked. The counsel for the petitioner replied that many people weren’t coming forward because they feared reprisals.

India only decriminalised homosexuality in 2018 after a legal battle that took almost two decades. Previously consensual same-sex relations were punishable by a sentence up to life in prison.

The landmark ruling was a huge victory for human rights, but Indian society remains predominantly conservative and LGBT+ discrimination is still common.

The High Court has adjourned the adjourned the case for same-sex marriage for a preliminary hearing on October 21.

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