India’s Supreme Court has declined to legalize same-sex marriage, stating that it falls within the purview of the Parliament. This decision has left millions of LGBTQ couples disappointed as they continue to seek equal rights.
In a unanimous ruling delivered in New Delhi on Tuesday, a five-judge bench concurred that marriage does not constitute a fundamental right. Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while presenting the court’s standpoint, emphasized that the court lacks the authority to officially recognize LGBTQ marriages, leaving any change in the law to the hands of legislators.
Although India decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, marriage rights have yet to be extended to the LGBTQ community. With less than 40 countries, including just two in Asia, Taiwan and Nepal, recognizing same-sex marriage, India’s case has drawn significant attention in the region, with countries like Thailand and South Korea contemplating similar legal measures.
The Chief Justice of India articulated that the institution of marriage evolves over time but clarified that it is not the court’s role to create the law; rather, its duty is to interpret and enforce existing legislation. He stated, “It can only interpret it and give effect to it.”
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has urged the government to establish a committee to investigate the rights and entitlements of LGBTQ individuals. This includes an assessment of regulations concerning medical, financial, and inheritance benefits, issues that had been highlighted by the petitioners in the case.
During the court proceedings earlier this year, the federal government opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, asserting that the legislature should be responsible for making such decisions. It also argued that same-sex marriage contradicts Indian values.
Marriage in India is governed by various codes, including the Special Marriage Act, a secular law that had previously sanctioned intercaste and interreligious unions. The plaintiffs, comprising a diverse group of couples, advocated for the extension of the Special Marriage Act to include same-sex marriage.
The petitioners contended that denying them the right to marry infringed upon their constitutional rights in India and presented challenges related to inheritance and adoption. While the Indian government proposed the formation of a panel to address these issues during the hearings, the topic of marriage was conspicuously avoided. It is worth noting that government panels are often sluggish in implementing change.