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India's Supreme Court rules against marriage equality


In India, the Supreme Court says the question of same-sex marriage is up to the country's parliament to decide. The move shocked millions of same-sex couples who were hoping for the court to codify marriage rights. Shalu Yadav reports from Delhi.

VISHWA SRIVASTAVA: It's OK. You also don't cry. It's OK.

VIVEK KISHORE: Twenty-eight years of your life, and you are just living with that hope.

SHALU YADAV, BYLINE: It was an emotional moment for Vishwa Srivastava and Vivek Kishore, who waited for this verdict for years, hoping for India's highest court to give them the legal right to marry. The gay couple have been living together for seven years. But then their hopes dashed as they heard the verdict.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The Supreme Court rules that there will be no legal gay marriages for now.

YADAV: It was a close call. In a 3-2 verdict, the court said that it was up to the Indian Parliament to legislate on the matter. On hearing the news, Vishwa's mother, Priti Shrivastava, walked out of the room in tears.

PRITI SRIVASTAVA: You just don't do it - very disappointed.

YADAV: Priti has always been supportive of her son's relationship with Vivek.

P SRIVASTAVA: (Speaking Hindi).

YADAV: "I held a wedding ceremony for them five years ago," she says, "but our relatives didn't approve. They would ask us, what right do you have? Is it even legal?" Vishwa regretted that his mother didn't get the validation she always wanted, not just from the court but also from the Indian society.

V SRIVASTAVA: She had, like, gold rings prepared for both of us to exchange to kind of tell the relatives that, you know what? The judgment has just come in, and my son is allowed to marry now. So guess what? I've got my son married to his partner. And that could not happen, so that's - that is a little sad, yes, for sure.

YADAV: India's Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex in 2018, which raised hopes for the country's LGBTQ community. Legalizing same-sex marriages could have paved the way for them to have the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples in India, like owning joint property, having a joint bank account, the right to adopt or even divorce. But the Hindu nationalist government is opposed to the idea, saying that it would threaten Indian family values.

RUTH VANITA: Basically, nonheterosexual couples and individuals are being treated as second-class citizens under the constitution by being denied the right to marry, which is one of the most basic rights you can imagine.

YADAV: Dr. Ruth Vanita is an author and a professor at the University of Montana. She's written extensively on the subject. She reminds people that the Indian society has historically celebrated same-sex unions, even without legal recognition.

VANITA: In India, before there was marriage equality anywhere in the world, couples - non-English-speaking, low-income couples, most of them women - were getting married since the 1980s, often with family support, since the 1980s, and it continues today. So basically, what the court is saying is the same thing that many others have - courts have said earlier. I am disappointed but not entirely surprised.

YADAV: Now the ball is in the Indian Parliament's court. The government says it will set up a panel to look into the matter. But many fear that this may not be on top of their agenda, especially as the election is just around the corner.

V SRIVASTAVA: A heterosexual couple - sometimes, they don't even think when they are having a child. They just have a child.

YADAV: Back at their home, Vivek consoles his partner, Vishwa, who's disheartened and pessimistic about their future in India. Vivek is not giving up hope.

KISHORE: Something good will come out eventually, yep. I am going to give them time to come around because that's how I have dealt with my personal family, as well. I gave them time to come around. It took them three years to accept me. And this is a whole nation. And they can take their time, but they will come around someday or the other.

YADAV: And somewhere between hope and hopelessness, the fight for equal rights for same-sex couples continues in India. For NPR News, this is Shalu Yadav in Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Shalu Yadav