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Marriage Equality Hearing: 'Govt Positive, Will Set Up Panel,' SG Tells SC

The panel will explore administrative steps for addressing 'concerns' of same-sex couples, the government said.

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The Centre has agreed to set up a panel headed by the Cabinet Secretary to explore administrative steps for addressing 'concerns' of same-sex couples, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 3 May.

"The government is positive. What we have decided is that this would need coordination between more than one ministry. So, a committee headed by no less than the Cabinet Secretary will be constituted," Mehta told the apex court.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India, headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, continued hearing the petitions seeking marriage equality in the country on Wednesday.

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Administrative Tweaking vs Legal Tweaking

"My friends can give me the suggestions or the problems they're facing, which the committee will go into and will try and see that so far as legally permissible, they are addressed," the Solicitor General added.

CJI Chandrachud further suggested that the Solicitor General hold an informal meeting with the petitioners' counsels. "...what we could do is if the Attorney, you, Mr Dwivedi, Mr Datar etc, who are appearing on this side, could have a meeting with counsels on other side maybe on Friday/Saturday."

Petitioners' counsel Abhishek Singhvi responded, saying:

"Meeting is not the problem. Even suggestions aren't the problem. I heard my learned friends say 'administrative'. There are very substantive issues of law. This at the best is administrative tweaking. Legal tweaking is another thing. Whatever is given by the administrative tweaking is certainly welcome, but it may not be a substitute."

"Personally, I don't think your lordships will have any major solution. Having seen the gamut of problems, it is better that your lordships spend time to get to a solution. This can be in addition though," Singhvi added.

Petitioners' counsel Menaka Guruswamy agreed with Singhvi, and said, "Young people in our country want marriage. I don't say this as an elite lawyer. I say this as someone having met these young people. Do not let them experience what we have experienced."

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'How Will Dignity of Heterosexual People Be Affected?': CJI

Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing as an intervener, contended that using the term 'spouse' instead of 'husband and wife' may affect the dignity of heterosexual people.

"I want your lordships to look at Section 4 [of the Special Marriage Act]. Spouse is a flexible word grammatically. But in the context of the Act, spouse means husband or wife. The context of this Act is heterosexual, everyone agrees to that," he said.

"Is it a simple substitution? You set up your claim based on choice, autonomy, dignity etc. Is there not dignity for heterosexuals?"

CJI Chandrachud, however, remarked, "Do you mean to say – and we're just testing the argument here – that the dignity of the relationship between a heterosexual husband and wife would be affected by granting recognition to a same sex couple? That's not your strongest case!"

"We say: I take you as a husband and take you as a wife... how can we say I take you as my spouse," Dwivedi asked. "While claiming dignity, you should not inflict indignity – whether traditionally, culturally, historically, socially... these are valuable things. They may not have meaning to people who don't attach value to it."

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Topics:  Same-sex marriage 

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