law homosexuality
© Love Matters | Rita Lino

Can gays and lesbians marry in India?

To say that sexual orientation is seen differently in different parts of the world is putting it mildly. Cultural and personal attitudes to homosexuality vary widely.

Some people, usually for religious or social reasons, see same-sex relationships as shameful or sinful. Usually these attitudes are linked to myths and misinformation. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals can face prejudice and discrimination, hatred and violence.

On the other hand, many people all over the world see homosexuality as just a normal part of life. They think gays and lesbians deserve the same respect as heterosexuals.

In almost 60 percent of countries in the world, being gay is legal. In many of them, it’s widely accepted. Gay and lesbian couples can now get married in the same way as straight couples in a long list of countries in Europe, North and South America and also South Africa and New Zealand. But in some places homosexuality is illegal, and gays, lesbians and bisexuals can face imprisonment.

The law in India

Although, homosexuality was decriminalized in India on 6 September 2018, it remains a societal taboo. Gays and lesbians continue to face discrimination in education, health care, housing and employment, and are sometimes victims of physical or sexual violence. Their complaints are usually dismissed by the police and they do not receive the same degree of protection or attention from the authorities. The Indian law also does not provide for same-sex marriages or civil partnerships. 

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How does the law treat homosexuality elsewhere? You can check lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) rights around the world here.

Gay and Indian

One often hears that homosexuality is not part of Indian culture but a Western import. But gay and lesbian love and sex are discussed in Indian literature dating back over a thousand years. The Kama Sutra, for example, devotes an entire chapter to oral sex, much of which concerns oral sex between two men. Lesbian sex is also described in detail. And look carefully at the sculptures in some medieval Hindu temples: in Khajuraho, for example, there are scenes of women having sex with women, and of men giving each other oral sex.

Gay relationships are not a Western invention, but the laws that criminalised it until recently were : the first anti-homosexuality laws in India were introduced by the British. Homosexuality was taboo in 19th century Europe, and the British brought their ideas of sexual morality with them to India.

And being gay is just one part of a person’s identity. No one can be reduced to just one thing: you can be a straight woman who’s also a mother, a sister, a Hindu, a singer, a runner, a businesswoman, an Indian, and much more. Or a gay man who’s also a football fan, a Christian, a son, a political activist, and a cook. We are all constellations of different identities, and sexual orientation is one element of that – but it’s not the whole, and not the only thing that defines you.

Cultures change! People create culture, and people can change it too. It’s only recently that some parts of Indian society became intolerant of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and it doesn’t have to stay that way. Things are already beginning to change again and there is growing understanding and acceptance of homosexuality.

The India Supreme Court's decision to decriminalize homosexuality will provide a strong boost to the fight for equality, including the right to same-sex marriages or legally-recognized partnerships. 

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