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“The fight will continue” for Indian LGBTQ+ activists in favor of marriage equality | India

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utkarsh Saxena had been secretly planning the proposal for weeks. He had secretly measured his boyfriend’s finger while he was sleeping and bought a pair of matching steel rings from a market in Delhi. They had been together for 15 years, having fallen in love on the college debate team, and Saxena was optimistic that it would be a good time to ask the love of her life to marry her – on the same day where the Indian Supreme Court ruled on whether same-sex couples would be allowed to marry.

Yet when the verdict came Tuesday, Saxena’s heart broke. Even as Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud spoke about the long history of LGBTQ+ people in India and their right to equality, he ruled that changing marriage laws was beyond the scope of the court and that marriage was not a fundamental right. It was the job of Parliament, not judges, to take such decisions, Chandrachud said.

Standing outside the Delhi court alongside dozens of other queer couples and LGBTQ+ activists, Saxena was so devastated that he couldn’t take out the rings. But back home, he told his boyfriend, Ananya Kotia, what his plan was.

“He said to me, ‘Oh, I wish you would have done that, it would have made this tough day a lot easier.’ So we decided to move forward anyway,” Saxena said.

On Wednesday, the couple – who had felt obliged to hide their relationship from some family members for more than a decade – returned to the steps of the Supreme Court and Saxena got down on one knee.

“After meeting Kotia, I felt like even though the whole world was against us, at least we had each other and that always gave us a lot of strength and resilience,” he said. declared. “So this was our way of redefining and reclaiming this moment. Our relationship has been transformational for both of us and I still believe that one day we will get married in India.

The fight for recognition of LGBTQ+ rights in India has been a long and often tortuous journey. It was only in 2018 that homosexuality was finally decriminalized by the Supreme Court, after two decades of protests, lawsuits and resistance. This was followed in 2019 by the Transgender Act, which legally recognized the rights of trans people for the first time.

Nevertheless, in the five years since the historic decriminalization decision, societal acceptance of homosexuality in India has undeniably increased. Although LGBTQ+ people still face significant harassment and stigma from police and within their families, particularly in more rural and conservative areas, they have never been more visible and represented in popular culture, media and business, and gay rights issues have never been more open. discussed within homes.

It is in this evolving environment that 20 petitioners, including gay and lesbian couples, transgender people, and LGBTQ+ activists, decided to merge their individual lawsuits to collectively fight for the right to marry under a civil law. The case was brought before India’s highest court, and between April and May this year, during a marathon of hearings, a special panel of five Supreme Court judges listened to some of the country’s best lawyers – many of whom are gay themselves – state their arguments. why LGBTQ+ people deserved the same rights in love and marriage as heterosexual couples under the constitution.

“It was a real beacon of hope. The arguments for it were so logical and strong,” said Ruchika Khanna, 46, an advertising consultant in Delhi. Like many members of the LGBTQ+ community, she was glued to the hearings, which were broadcast live online and became a topic of national debate. Like many, she had pinned her hopes on Chandrachud, who is widely considered one of India’s most progressive chief justices in years.

Members of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Humsafar Trust in Mumbai listen to the verdict
Members of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Humsafar Trust in Mumbai listen to the verdict. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA

But the government, led by the right-wing religious nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had fiercely opposed the case in court, arguing that marriage could only take place between a biological man and woman and that the Same-sex marriage was a violation of Indian law. religious and cultural norms. The same government had previously opposed the promotion of a judge to the Supreme Court because of his sexual orientation.

Although she doesn’t believe much in the institution of marriage, Tuesday’s decision was a blow to Khanna. “Perhaps it was too radical in this political environment, when the government is clearly opposed to it,” she said. “But there is so much resilience in the community and the fight will continue.”

It was a view shared by many LGBTQ+ people, who said they were devastated but not intimidated by the verdict, although older queer couples, some in their 60s, worried they were running out of time. Some said they would take to the streets; others said the LGBTQ+ community needed to come together to become a stronger political voice and bring about change.

Parmesh Shahani, who runs the Godrej DEI Lab – which works for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the cultural and corporate sectors – and is the author of a book, Queeristan, pointed out that legal setbacks have been part of the fight for two decades .

“Is this disappointing? Yes. Will we get up and move on? Almost certainly,” Shahani said. “Already, the societal changes that I have observed over the last five years, we could never have imagined. It is now up to all of us to truly change hearts and minds – in civil society, in our homes, families and workplaces – and create an inclusive society so that whenever this happens again, it will not be no longer a debate.

Much frustration within the LGBTQ+ community has been directed at the panel of judges for pushing issues into the lap of the BJP government, which has done little to advance LGBTQ+ rights and equality over the past of his nine years in power and, in many cases, openly took sides. discriminatory positions.

Zainab Patel, a transgender woman who was one of the petitioners, applauded one of the few victories resulting from the ruling – that transgender people in heterosexual relationships could legally marry – but said overall : “it seemed that the judges had all renounced their right”. responsibility to the community, and it was a serious disappointment.

Like most, she was skeptical that the high-level committee the government agreed to create to examine LGBTQ+ rights could make anything more than “a few cosmetic changes at most.”

Others expressed concern that the decision had caused lasting damage to the fight for civil liberties. Rohin Bhatt, one of the lawyers who fought the case and who is gay, said the ruling was “very, very dangerous” in stating that marriage was not a fundamental right.

“The court has shamelessly capitulated to a majoritarian and authoritarian executive,” Bhatt said, adding that the judgment would be “rigorously criticized” and lawyers handling the case would file a review petition.

“It’s time for gay people to take to the streets, for gay people to get angry, for us gay people to protest,” he said. “Let’s be very clear, we are not going to accept this without doing anything. It may take time, but make no mistake: we will get these rights eventually.

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theguardian

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