The Power Couple Who Led the Fight Against Sec 377 Are On Their Next Mission: Legalising Gay Marriage

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The Power Couple Who Led the Fight Against Sec 377 Are On Their Next Mission: Legalising Gay Marriage

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Days after we wrapped up the Pride month, lawyers Dr Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju come bearing hopes of mightier celebrations for the LGBTQIA+ community in India. The power couple, who were at the forefront of the fight to decriminalise homosexuality, is reportedly set to take the next step with “The Marriage Project” – which will work toward legalising same-sex marriages in the country.

When they talk about their next mission, Guruswamy and Katju make an interesting point. That “India is a marriage country”. And they are on point. In a country like ours, romantic relationships are looked upon by society solely through the lens of matrimony, and marriage also happens to be the only form of union between two partners acknowledged by law.

And hence “The Marriage Project” seems like the apt way to demand equal rights for the queer community. A piece in Feminism In India says, “According to Guruswamy and Katju, there is a legal and social aspect to this project.” The legal aspect deals with a number of rights related to life insurance and inheritance that you earn only once you are legally married. The social aspect is how our society believes that the logical conclusion to any “successful” relationship is marriage.

The Indian law is unaccepting of same-sex marriages at present. However, two partners of legal age can sign-up for Civil Union under Special Marriages Act 1954. While the act is dominantly gender-neutral and grants same-sex union, it is not sanctified as marriage. Now with Sec 377 scrapped, however, the LGBTQIA+ community rightfully does not want to settle for what seems like a compromise.

In January, Nikesh Usha Pushkaran and Sonu MS, a gay couple from Kerala, moved the High Court to legalise their marriage. The two tied the knot in July 2018 and have now challenged the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, stating that the provisions violate the fundamental rights for same-sex couples.

Guruswamy is of the opinion that beyond sexual orientation, gender conformity, religious beliefs and everything that strikes as an individual’s characteristic, “all desire the same thing: a lasting long-term relationship recognised by society and law.” And that in India, is marriage.

For the two lawyers, this fight is not just professional but also a personal one. In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last July, Guruswamy and Katju revealed for the first time that they are a couple.

In the interview, Guruswamy talked about the long struggle that led to the striking down of the archaic Sec 377. She recalls the 2013 verdict in which the Supreme Court set aside the Delhi high court decision from 2009 and declared homosexuality a crime again. Even her own identity was being questioned, but along with Katju, she soldiered on for years until victory came in the form of historic words uttered by the then CJI Dipak Misra: “I am what I am, so take me as I am.”

That’s why the victory meant so much more to Guruswamy and Katju. Even as the two campaigned for equality, they themselves remained largely invisible – to judges, colleagues, and many many more who backed Section 377.

But now all that is behind the lawyers. Today, same-sex couples have the right to live the way they want and love whom they please. Now that Guruswamy and Katju have boldly come out as a lesbian couple, they only plan to carry the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights forward with “The Marriage Project”.

It took 158 years for Section 377 to become history. One can only hope that the fight for marriage rights for the queer community is far less cumbersome.

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