Arguments set to conclude in Indian top court hearing on same-sex marriage
By Hugo Barcia
New Delhi, May 10 (EFE).- Indian Supreme Court is now hearing the final arguments over the legalization of same-sex marriage in the country, with the trial marking an intense legal battle between gay couples and the government, which has firmly opposed the unions.
The arguments, which began on Apr 18 and are set to conclude on Wednesday, are part of a major legal development five years after the court struck down a 150-year-old law from India’s colonial past under British rule that punished “unnatural offences” (gay sex) and criminalized same-sex relationships with jail sentences.
On Wednesday, the judges decided to give one more day to the parties to conclude their arguments in the historic case.
The final verdict, to be announced by a five-judge bench including Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, may not be released until July or August, after the court’s summer vacation.
Utkarsh Saxena, one of the lawyers in the case who is also a petitioner in favor of same-sex marriages, told EFE he was “cautiously optimistic” about the verdict.
“We believe that the law, society, culture, all of them have been evolving. And I think this the right moment to take the next step,” he said.
Saxena, whose petition is among 20-odd similar ones that have been grouped together by the top court, highlighted the absence of basic rights for gay couples.
“We cannot open a joint bank account. We cannot declare taxes together, we cannot adopt as a couple. He cannot be part of my health insurance or vice-versa,” he elaborated.
The three-week long hearings have witnessed several objections against gay marriages by the government, which had opposed them even before the trial.
The authorities have also insisted that it is only the parliament and not judiciary which can take such a complicated decision with a “deep social impact,” due to not being equipped with the ability to handle the consequences.
The judges have expressed their disagreement with the official position several times during the hearing.
Saxena insisted that the petitioners were not asking for a new law, but arguing that the existing Special Marriage Act should also include same-sex marriage.
“Can (the law) discriminate between some people and others? This question cannot be decided by the parliament, it is a judicial question which the court can take up. That is why we are here,” he added.
The official position is also that these type of unions go against religion and culture.
The government – which agreed to established a committee to grant certain rights to same-sex couples without recognizing their marriage – told the court that the state of Rajasthan had opposed gay marriage, while six other provincial governments had sought more time to discuss their stand.
In case the top court decides in favor of the petitioners, India would become one of just 35 countries in the world that legally recognize marriage between people of the same sex.
Although Saxena agreed that in the South Asian nation, the “law was moving ahead of the society,” he insisted that “at least there would be a conversation and legal stigma would disappear.”
“The people would feel more comfortable coming out of the closet and marrying, having a family and children. The rest of the society would see that these families are like any other, and maybe withdraw their criticism,” the lawyer said. EFE