Social Issues

Same-sex marriages await legalization in India as apex court hears petition

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Apr 17 (EFE).- Aditya Advani and Michael Tarr exchanged wedding vows three decades ago in New Delhi, in a family ceremony presided over by a Hindu priest, but the lack of official recognition of same-sex unions in India has caused them a multitude of problems that conventional couples take for granted.

Despite the government’s opposition, Advani and Tarr, as well as other members of the LGBT community, are hopeful as the Supreme Court prepares to hear final arguments on giving legal recognition to same-sex unions on Tuesday.

Advani, a landscape architect, came to visit his parents in India after living in the United States, where he met Tarr.

“We met 30 or 32 years ago, and later we came to India to visit my parents, and my mother came up with the idea that we could get married, so we thought it was a good idea,” Advani, who moved to India a decade ago, told EFE.

From Advani’s studio in an affluent neighborhood of the Indian capital, Tarr fondly recalled the spontaneity of the ceremony, organized within a week and presided over by a Hindu priest.

In the eyes of their family and friends Advani and Tarr have been married for three decades, something that is legally valid in the US.

However, their union fails to get the same recognition in India, where laws dating back to the British colonial era on the matter viewed same-sex relationships as a criminal offense.

Even though the Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relationships in 2018, such marriages are not recognized by the state.

The problems range from Tarr having to remain in India on a tourist visa – that resulted in him being forced out of the country during the coronavirus pandemic – to the inability to work or open a bank account.

“It is a serious problem because we have children, we are a family and not just a couple,” he explained, underlining that they are parents of twins by surrogacy before India prohibited homosexual couples from having offspring by this method.

Similar difficulties are faced by the academic Ruth Vanita, who ends up shuffling between the US and India with her partner, whom she married in a religious ceremony in 2000.

“As with many other couples like us, my wife is considered a legal foreigner in India,” with no access to the lifetime visas that heterosexual couples comprising Indians and foreigners can get, she told EFE.

Lack of recognition also affects Indian couples.

“A young lesbian couple, friends of mine, lived in Delhi for two years (…) One of them unexpectedly went into a coma and her family took her away, made all the medical and funeral decisions when she died, and took all her possessions,” Vanita said.

“They treated her partner like a roommate,” she explained.

Vanita, author of books on same-sex marriages in India, stressed that this type of unions are not new or a product of Western influence as argued by the most conservative sections.

“A lot of people don’t know how many young, low-income, non-English speaking couples, many of them women, have married through religious rites since at least 1987 across the country,” she said.

Leela and Urmila, two female police officers who married with family approval in 1987, is one of the earliest examples Vanita has on record “before there was a gay movement in India.”

The academic has also counted more than two hundred cases of homosexual couples who “either married, or committed suicide jointly, or sometimes both”, since the 80s.

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