"There is no absolute concept of a man or an absolute concept of a woman at all" – this was said by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud during the ongoing marriage equality hearing in the Supreme Court.
This one statement has since been translated and reproduced in multiple languages by the media and has caused a significant population of India to shift in their seats over the last few days.
At present, marriage between same-sex couples is legally performed and recognised in 34 countries across the world. In many of these nations, this legalisation was achieved after staunch arguments, counter-arguments, critique, and public discourse.
After all, the debate isn't new – and neither are the people shifting uncomfortably in their seats. And at the centre of the debate is how non-heterosexual parents would raise their children – and how the society would 'accept' same-sex parents.
The Question Through Research: What Studies Say
It has exactly been half a century since homosexuality has been removed as a 'disorder' from the diagnostic classifications in medicine. Active awareness-building about gender-fluidity and the normalcy of homosexuality has been going on for decades.
And yet, the concept of a child having same-sex parents makes a major chunk of our population uneasy.
There are many instances across years where same-sex partners have lived their entire lives together, denied any recognition of being a couple or unable to adopt children, despite having financial and emotional capacity to do so.
Though research in this field is still nascent, a handful of studies that have compared the upbringing, behavioural issues, and well-being of children of same-sex parents with that of heterosexual parents have found that the former fares at least as well as the latter group.
However, they do face higher societal stigma, bullying, prejudice, and negative feedback from their friends, families, and society.
This makes it clear that while having same-sex parents might have no negative impact on the child, societal mentality and behaviour towards these families certainly play a major role in their life experiences.
Research shows that the financial, psychological, and physical well-being of queer individuals are enhanced through marriage, and that the children of same-sex parents benefit from being raised by couples within a marital union, which is recognised by law and supported by societal institutions.
Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages Matter
Research also indicates that the exclusion of gay people from marriage stigmatises and invites public discrimination against them. It also repudiates the notion that civilisations and viable social orders are dependent upon restricting same-sex marriage.
Furthermore, recognition matters. Same-sex marriage can provide those in committed same-sex relationships with relevant government services and make financial requests from them comparable to what is required of those in heterosexual marriages.
It also provides them legal protections, such as inheritance and hospital visitation rights.
Gendered Roles of Parents Not Watertight
We would like to point out here that being a 'mother' or a 'father' is independent of the biological sex, as we can see with single parents.
Gender is a social construct and the 'gendered' roles assigned to parents (for example: nurturance of a mother and protection of a father) are by no means absolute and watertight.
It depends rather on the emotional bonding, understanding, and marital dynamics between the couple – be it same-sex or opposite. Hence, raising a child is independent of the sexual orientation or the gender of the parents.
Moreover, reproductive rights state that the choice of having or adopting children is solely dependent on each couple. Generation expansion may be one of but NOT the only function subserved by marriages.
It can be vouched from a mental health perspective that normalising same-sex relationships, marriages, and eventual child upbringing might help in broadening the society's outlook towards these family units and allow it to be more aware and accepting towards them.
This would not only reduce the external stigma experienced by these families, but also ease their own internalised sense of guilt, isolation, incapacity, and loneliness.
Even the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), the largest professional body of psychiatrists in India, in press release, reiterated how homosexuality is not a disorder and that LGBTQIA+ individuals should have as much right as any other citizen of India to marry, adopt, and get education and employment.
The press release also clarified the absolute lack of evidence that same-sex parents are inept in adopting or parenting their children.
Laws Need To Evolve With Changing Times
Laws have always played an important role in maintaining a societal structure, preventing disruptions, and allowing a sense of equality and unity. But laws also need to be dynamic, and get altered, removed, added, and forgotten as the society moves on.
Those laws that move slower than the speed at which society is evolving tends to form a bottleneck, which causes clashes, inequalities, and tears in the societal fabric. So, timely upgradation of law to suit societal requirements is essential.
We can see how the acceptance of homosexuality has grown quite rapidly in the last 50 years across the world, and over the last decade in India. We need to keep in mind the developments that we have achieved and move ahead in this battle to arrive at a more unified yet diverse community.
The stress of keeping one's gender or sexual identity hidden, or the worries of parents of children who have been attempting to live a normal life after they "come out of the closet" can be reduced remarkably simply by normalising the existence of homosexuality and giving the LGBTQIA+ community the same rights and social and legal recognition of their love.
The positive mental health consequences of having legal rights to marry, adopt, and have a family will be significant, not only for just the two individuals, but also to their family members, who have to suffer from significant discriminations, too.
If a couple decides to spend their lives together following the societal institution of marriage, who are we to build artificial barriers?
(Dr Debanjan Banerjee is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Sexologist, APOLLO Multispecialty Hospitals, Kolkata. Dr Chandrima Naskar is a Fellow in Consultation Liaison Psychiatry, PGIMER, Chandigarh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)