Home / Opinion / Columns /  One earth with one family... and many kinds of love

As a gay teenager, Mohsin Zaidi continued to pray five times a day, as he had as a young boy, repeatedly asking God for one blessing: That he become straight. By the time he got to Oxford, his thoughts had turned suicidal, and he wondered if his parents would prefer a dead son to a gay son. Zaidi’s book published last year, A Dutiful Boy, is the defining subcontinental memoir of growing up gay, even though Zaidi is British-Pakistani and his childhood was in the suburbs of London. One of the most moving passages is when he took his partner, Matthew, to meet his parents.

Finding a partner and especially the solemnization of marriage is a dream almost all of us pursue. In recognition of how grossly unjust it has been to deny that right to the LGBTQ community, countries across the world have legalized same-sex marriages ever since the early 2000s, when the Netherlands became the first to do so. In addition to developed countries, countries such as Cuba and Colombia allow same-sex marriages. Two petitions filed last month before India’s Supreme Court by a team of distinguished lawyers, including former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, seek equal treatment for gay and lesbian couples who want to solemnize their relationships under the Special Marriages Act. The petitions are spectacularly well timed. This week, the US Senate passed a law that mandates federal recognition of same-sex marriages. It also forbids state governments from denying the validity of such a marriage that was conducted outside that state. At the other end of the spectrum, regardless of all the exciting football and the surreal $200 billion spent on stadiums and infrastructure, Qatar will also be infamous for its persecution of gays and lesbians and its poor labour rights of migrant workers.

As the Navtej Johar case did in the curative petition that prompted the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 2018, the two petitions seeking equal rights in marriage for same-sex couples humanize the issues by telling the love stories of the couples involved. Petitioners Supriyo Chakraborty and Abhay Dang, who are based in Hyderabad, have been a couple for almost a decade and solemnized their commitment to each other in a ceremony before friends and family in December last year. The other petition by Uday Anand and Parth Mehrotra, who have been in a relationship since just after they left high school in New Delhi 17 years ago, outlines the practical problems of being parents (via surrogacy) to two children when one of the fathers is not legally recognized as a parent. The petition describes how Anand and Mehrotra’s mothers moved in to help after their children were born. (Anand and Mehrotra have been akin to younger brothers of mine for almost a decade.) Long before Ayushmann Khurrana and Made in Heaven on Amazon Prime did their heroic bit to break stereotypes, I was filled with admiration watching Anand and Mehrotra’s parents dance with abandon with them at a family Diwali party years ago.

The ruling in the Navtej Johar case, with its powerful pillars of recognizing how discrimination against LGBTQ people violates constitutional guarantees of equality and privacy of the individual, strengthens the case. The secular nature of the Special Marriages Act weakens the possible counter-argument that the court cannot trespass upon personal law or religious provisions. “As long as there is the concept of marriage, to not allow it (for same sex couples) is a violation of the equality clause in article 14," says Saurabh Kirpal, who is one of the lawyers acting for the petitioners. The petition will be heard on 6 January, remarkably prompt given that many matters involving Kashmir as well as misuse of state investigative agencies have been waiting their turn for a few years.

While this petition is a moment of pride for LGBTQ individuals like me, we need public education by the government as well as Bollywood to win the battle against prejudice on who can marry whom well beyond upper-middle-class India. As news of these petitions broke, I had just spoken on the phone with a gay man in Haryana. The economic downturn of the pandemic had pitchforked him back to his family farm after years of living in Delhi and briefly in Dubai, where he worked as a personal trainer. He did not believe he could ever live with his partner in Delhi; his past life represented “a dream".

The Supreme Court’s hearing of these petitions comes at time when several state governments have used the bogey of “forced conversion" and “love jihad" to pass laws that harass inter-faith couples by absurdly demanding they notify and seek the government’s permission first before getting married. Admirably, the Madhya Pradesh high court last month and the Gujarat high court in August have ruled against such laws, but an intervention from the Supreme Court is urgently needed.

“One Love", the credo on the armbands footballers planned to wear in support of LGBTQ rights that were outlawed at the World Cup, applies also to couples of different religions, of course. As Qatar has learnt, hosting high-profile global events comes with broad and intense scrutiny of human rights, which India will face as well as it assumes the G20 presidency.

Rahul Jacob is a Mint columnist and a former Financial Times foreign correspondent.

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