India’s Supreme Court sets date for historic same-sex marriage case

Abhay and Supriyo, two Indian men, looking lovingly at each other in front of a wall of flowers

A five-judge panel of India’s Supreme Court is to begin debating whether the country will finally legalise same-sex marriage.

The top court said on Thursday (16 March) that a panel would hear arguments on the issue beginning 18 April.

Finding a conclusion to the debate is of “seminal importance” to the court following prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to reject yet another call for same-sex marriage to be legally recognised.

Since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018, a number of Indian same-sex couples have petitioned high courts to allow same-sex marriage.

Currently, queer couples in India are only afforded what’s known as an “unregistered cohabitation”.

This essentially means that, while the couple can live together, they are not afforded the rights given to married couples, such as the right to share assets or adopt.

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In a hearing on Monday (13 March), lawyers argued that because the courts have already expanded rights for LGBTQ+ people in the past, it is only be a matter of time before same-sex marriage would be legalised.

Petitioners have also argued that the rights of inter-faith couples to marry in India should extend to LGBTQ+ marriages.

There have been at least 15 pleas filed in court in an effort to legalise same-sex marriage since 2018.

One of the petitions, filed in November 2022 by couple Supriyo Chakraborty and Abhay Dange, stated that without same-sex marriage, their own personal liberty was being cut short.

“If the petitioners, as a same-sex couple, enjoyed access to the civil institution of marriage, they would face no untold practical difficulties, both vis-a-vis each other and their children,” a court plea read.

But an affidavit filed in the federal government supported prime minister Modi’s view that same-sex marriages are somehow “not comparable” to marriage between a man and woman.

It described the “accepted view” as that of a male and female marriage, describing it as a “holy union [and] a sacrament”.

If India were to legalise same-sex marriage, it would be only the second country in Asia to do so, after Taiwan in 2019.

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