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Same-sex marriage in India: Top facts

When we hear the word marriage, we immediately picture a bride and a groom. But what about a bride and a bride or a groom and a groom? Unfortunately, the Indian legal system does not yet recognise same-sex marriages, making them a distant dream for homosexual couples in the country.

What are same-sex marriages?

Same-sex marriages are marriages between two persons belonging to the same sex, say, between two females. In India, same-sex marriages are not yet recognised. But, there are other countries where same-sex marriages are legal to varying degrees.

Which countries have legally recognised same-sex marriages?

Marriages between same-sex couples are legal in at least 26 countries to varying degrees and with different clauses. The first was Netherlands, that recognised same-sex marriages in 2000, while Australia is the newest on the scene having legalised same-sex marriages in December 2017.

Denmark was the first country to give recognition to same-sex couples, back in 1989, by allowing them to live as domestic partners.

Why don’t we have them in India yet?

In India, same-sex marriages are not yet legally recognised. But, this does not mean that they are illegal. Quite a few couples have tied the knot in religious ceremonies.

Marriages in India are registered either under The Hindu Marriage Act, available to persons practicing Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism. Else, the Special Marriage Act registers marriages of persons practicing other religions or couples belong to separate religions. The forms for such registration seek details of a husband (man) and a wife (woman), with currently no provision for marriages between same-sex couples.

What bearing does Section 377 have on the issue?

On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled unanimously that Section 377 was unconstitutional and decriminalised homosexuality. Since this ruling, intercourse between two consenting same-sex adults is no longer illegal in India. However, the law still does not provide any legal recognition to same sex relationships.

So for example, same sex couples can't get insurance claims, property rights or inheritance from their partners. Currently, an Indian court is considering appeals to legalise same-sex marriages in India. The recent submission to the court from the government however claimed that same-sex marriages were not a part of the Indian culture. The court continues to hear the appeal.

What all is at stake?

However, there is more to the quest for marriage equality. Even though there is some debate over the importance of marriages in general, some even labelling them a redundant custom, they do give social recognition to a relationship, which is important in the Indian culture.

A legally recognised marriage also gives benefits to partners in terms of inheritance, pension, property-division and maintenance rights in case of separation, and the power to make important medical decisions for the partner in case of their illness, and so on. The lack of such provisions for same-sex couples leaves them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the heterosexual couples.

This article was first published on April 16, 2018. 

*Persons in the picture are models. 

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