Will Civil Rights Follow for LGBTQ Community After Historic Win?
LGBTQ+ community face fight for further civil rights, with government unlikely to support gay marriage
Among the many testimonies of joy and celebration that reverberated across the country after the partial striking down of the archaic Section 377 (of the IPC) two days ago, there were some that took a more serious tone. India has finally caught up with many developed countries in decriminalizing homosexuality, but there is still a long road ahead for LGBTQI persons to enjoy the same rights as the non-queer public, including the right to wed their partners, inherit property and be recognized as nominees for insurance.
However, it seems unlikely that the Union Government, will support any move to expand on the civil rights of the community, and will even oppose any similar petitions which seek to legalize same-sex marriage.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, a government functionary speaking anonymously, said, “Decriminalisation of same-sex acts was fine but the government would oppose any demand to legalise same-sex marriage.”
This is in line with the government’s stance in the Section 377 case, where it left it to the Supreme Court to decide on the criminality of the 158-year-old provision, but asked it not to go into civil rights. This spells confusion and hints at a longer journey ahead for the LGBTQI community to gain equal rights in society.
A journey which is not made easier by comments from leaders within the ruling party as well as right-wing organizations as their reactions to the verdict.
The RSS publically declared that same-sex marriages and same-sex relationships, for that matter, are “neither natural nor desirable”.
Meanwhile, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy sparked controversy when he called homosexuality a “genetic disorder.” He also said that there is a need for “medical research to rectify it.” Such comments are in stark contrast to the expected course of action from the powers that be, in the aftermath of such a progressive and promising verdict.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Sunil Mehra, a petitioner in the case expressed his shock at the idea of not being accorded these rights, including the right to adopt, eventually:
“If equality of LGBTQ persons is now a fundamental right, then right to marry, bequeath property, share insurance (medical and life) are all part of this. We are asking for rights respect and dignity and it is unconstitutional and impudent to deny that. I am astounded at people who say that we cannot get these rights.”
While the Congress party welcomed the SC verdict, it has said it is for the government to “formulate a position” on wider civil rights and once this is done, they will respond to it, according to chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.
It is not uncommon or unheard of for members of the queer community to move abroad, to countries where homosexuality is not a crime, and same-sex marriage is legal, in search of a better life. Verdicts legalizing same-sex relationships in countries like the US, UK and recently Australia, have been followed by legal recognition of other civil rights, including marriage.
Activists and human rights lawyers also acknowledge that this is just the first step.
Balachandran Ramiah, another petitioner in the case, told Reuters that there was “a long road ahead when it comes to changing societal mindsets”, and stressed the importance of employers ending discrimination in workplaces.
“A number of companies up until now were unable to put these down on paper,” he says , referring to steps to end discrimination. “Now they can.”
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