India’s recent Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality have sparked a crucial examination of the country’s perceptions of marriage and family. These hearings lasted 10 days and focused on petitions by LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies, revealing flaws in our understanding of familial relationships.
Arguments for and against the petitions exposed shortcomings in our concepts of marriage and family. LGBTQIA+ petitioners seek legal rights and recognition as marital partners, even in long-term cohabiting relationships or customary marriages. They propose amending the Special Marriage Act (SMA) to replace gender-specific terms with the more inclusive ‘spouse’.
Some petitioners challenge the notice regime under the SMA, which requires a 30-day notice to the marriage officer. They argue it contradicts the SMA’s purpose of encouraging inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, exposing applicants to tracking, intimidation, and violence. The court acknowledges the patriarchal nature of this provision and its infringement on privacy.
The hearings also highlight the violence faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals from their natal families, emphasizing the need to choose their own families. Marriage serves as a legal shield against violence inflicted by natal families. Granting single individuals the right to appoint trusted individuals for decision-making is crucial, as natal families often disregard their wishes.
The petitions focus on practical aspects like healthcare, life insurance, joint bank accounts, rental agreements, and adoption rights. They expose systemic exclusion faced by those outside legally recognized relationships, revealing how citizenship in India is influenced by the heteronormative ideal of a family—a unit with a mother, father, and children.
In contemporary India, independence and self-sufficiency often hinge on familial relationships due to inadequate support from the State and Market. While marriage offers protection and respect, it also entails strict surveillance and enforcement of societal norms. Deviating from caste, class, or other boundaries in marriage can lead to opposition, cruelty, and violence, affecting LGBTQIA+ individuals and cisgender heterosexual people alike. Lack of affordable education and equitable wages for women perpetuates reliance on marriage as the norm. Regardless of the outcome, these discussions challenge our perception of an ideal family.
Re-reported from the article originally published in The News Minute.