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All We Want Is the Same Rights As Everyone Else

A real-life account of our columnist on the discrimination and casual bigotry people in same-sex relationships have to face.

ARJUN KHANNA

‘‘‘Are you related by blood? Are you sisters? We don’t understand...you’re friends investing in a property...together?!’ probed the seemingly flummoxed home loan rep. My girlfriend and I were seated in a plush lobby of a new construction site, with our respective parents in tow, collectively resisting apologetic smiles as the series of questions continued, often straying incredulously into the purview of personal space. I’ve been lucky to find an incredible partner in my girlfriend, and buying property together was a special part of the promise we hoped to make to each other. You could say we desired ‘normality’, and didn’t wish to be regarded as ‘alternative sexualities’. The sort of status quo akin to marriage that heterosexual people can take for granted but is still not an option for us.

The home loan was denied. Our individual bank balance, what’s considered ‘pink money’, our record of tax payments, all tossed aside; and our familial support, overlooked. There was another route. That of creating a pseudo company and re-approaching banks as business partners...but our everyday lives are already entwined in too many big little lies to indulge a new deception. Legally, homosexuality in India is no longer a crime after the striking down of Section 377 in September 2018. But, as is well documented, fundamental human rights elude same-sex couples. There is the daily denial of dignity, and having to cope with discriminations in housing, workplaces, adoption, even benefits of tax and inheritance. The myopic Marital Status section on official forms—insurance, mortgage, passport, health, tax returns et al—lists options of single, married, divorced, widow/ widower, and separated. No prizes for guessing our eternal pick. Single.

‘Are you family? Only family members are allowed to club miles to avail benefits, else make separate bookings,’ said a polite airline executive when I phoned in to combine our miles to avail air tickets. Even the basic choice of opening a shared bank account is never without dogged scrutiny. And the ‘two single beds’ option always presents itself each time we stay at a hotel. A firm request for a double bed is met with mocking glances.

Such days of small surrenders, of outright bigotry, tally up to a very lasting and marginalising sense of unfairness—always leaving us in nervous anticipation of the next hurdle, systemic omission, bursts of homophobic judgments that could bully us right back into the closet.

It was Pride Month in June. And while India’s same-sex couples navigated the tricky patchwork of laws and societal small-mindedness,  Ecuador’s highest court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling the same month in the devoutly Catholic South American country. Earlier, in May, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage.

 

SUNEET VERMA

Would extending similar rights to Indian homosexual couples destroy the sanctity of marriage? India remains divided here. Two independent surveys, conducted by India Today magazine and OkCupid dating app, and published in February and June 2019 respectively, suggest a deep wide chasm in society’s attitudes vis-à-vis the old and the new generation. Same-sex marriages, according to India Today’s Mood of the Nation poll, found acceptance in one in four persons. The majoritarian 62% conservative views refused extending marital rights, a miniscule 24% said yes, while 14% were marked undecided. Roughly 2,00,000 liberal users participated in OkCupid’s online survey, with 82% women and 55% men ticking in favour of same-sex marriage.

My girlfriend and I could exchange I-dos today. Performing a same-sex wedding is not illegal—we won’t be arrested—but shall we settle for a marriage without benefits? For us, the argument of same-sex marriage is mainly an issue of legal sanctions and how the nation’s ruling party and lawmakers perceive such unions. And currently the language opposes legalising the partnership or further expansion of same-sex civil liberties.

The Supreme Court dismissed a review petition in April that sought various civil rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, including same-sex marriage, property rights, adoption and surrogacy. A five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it was ‘not inclined to entertain the review plea seeking other reliefs after the decision of this Court in Navtej Singh vs Union of India’. How could the nation’s highest court credibly claim that they accept the individual’s right to love freely if it excludes its members from the legal privileges of matrimony?

Agreed that the history of marriage matters. Its legacy is deeply personal, and holds myriad, mostly complex religious and patriarchal ramifications, something the politicians can’t afford to upset. The SC’s ruling simply states marriage between same-sex couples is unlawful, but doesn’t say how we could fix it, perhaps because the legislation itself requires amendments. France could offer a solution here. When they introduced a civil solidarity pact (pacte civil de solidarité), an analogous institution to civil partnerships or PACS in 1999, it was heralded as a revolution in same-sex relationships rights, a union quite like marriage. Except, it’s not  ‘marriage’ with pomp and show of tradition and conditional commitment, so no threat there.

Instead, civil partnerships act as a legal commitment (registered simply by signing a legal document) that sanctions privileges to adoption and surrogacy, file joint tax returns, share insurance policies, invest and mutually own a property, and other configurations. This could be our temporary ticket out of the margins, a necessary fix for a pressing problem—marriage equality in India. We’d have to wait for our happily-ever-after a few years longer.”