Thiruvananthapuram- In a consequential ruling, the Supreme Court of India delivered a verdict on October 17 that declined to legalize same-sex marriages, instead deferring the responsibility for legislative action to Parliament. This decision has reverberated deeply within the LGBTQ community, dealing a significant blow to thousands who have long struggled against injustice and oppression while seeking to carve out their rightful spaces in society.
As Supreme Court Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud made the verdict known, he underscored that the power to shape the legal framework for marriage falls squarely within the purview of Parliament and State Legislatures. However, Sonu and Nikesh, pioneers as Kerala's first gay couple to marry and also the first petitioners in India advocating for the recognition of civil unions, harbour skepticism about Parliament's willingness to take a progressive stance on this matter. Their doubt is firmly rooted in their perception that the Central Government has emerged as the most resolute opponent of the legitimate demands of the queer community.
Sonu MS and Nikesh Pushkaran, in an unexpected turn, chose not to engage with media platforms and instead turned to their Vlog to convey their views on the judgment. In a video shared within hours of the verdict, the couple expressed profound disappointment, going as far as to label it a "Shame for a country like India." They lamented the apparent retrogression in a world that is otherwise advancing, and they noted that this setback signals the start of renewed struggles for countless members of the LGBTQ community.
The couple's skepticism regarding Parliament's intentions is unwavering. They drew a pertinent reference to Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor, whose private bill in 2015 aimed at decriminalizing same-gender consensual relations was voted out by the Lok Sabha before it even reached the discussion stage.
"We are acutely aware of how our Parliament handles matters of this nature. We need only recall the incident when Shashi Tharoor championed a similar cause, only to be met with ridicule and mockery, including the offensive question, 'Are you a Gay?' This incident is emblematic of the prevailing attitudes within the Indian Parliament. Consequently, we hold no expectations of substantial change or a shift in mindset within the legislature in the foreseeable future," Nikesh said in a resentful note.
Nikesh, a 37-year-old businessman, and Sonu, a 33-year-old tech professional, celebrated their union in 2018 and subsequently filed their petition with the Kerala High Court on January 24, 2020. They recount the arduous journey their case undertook, marked by prolonged delays as they awaited the Kerala government's response and the pandemic's interruption of court proceedings. Additionally, other same-sex couples from various regions submitted similar petitions, leading to the consolidation of these cases in the Supreme Court. The entire LGBTQ+ community, including Sonu and Nikesh, closely monitored the verdict proceedings on Tuesday with hope and optimism.
At the outset of the Supreme Court hearing, their expectations were buoyed by Chief Justice Chandrachud's supportive stance on LGBTQ+ rights. The CJI eloquently emphasized the equality of heterosexual and homosexual individuals, endorsing the rights of queer couples to open joint bank accounts, obtain ration cards, adopt children, and secure inheritance rights. However, the court's tone gradually shifted, and the disappointment unfolded as the other three judges ultimately voted against their plea. The court's final assertion that the power to grant recognition rested with the Parliament was a crushing blow, extinguishing their hopes of achieving inclusivity and dignified lives for the LGBTQ+ community.
For Nikesh and Sonu, the experience was akin to being promised assistance and then abruptly abandoned, leaving the queer community in a state of limbo. "In a truly progressive society, it's important that we support and empower those who face the most challenges and discrimination. Unfortunately, the court decision goes against this idea and feels like a step backward when the rest of the world is moving forward. The LGBTQ+ community has fought for their rights for many years, and this decision seems to negate all that effort. It will have a big impact on many queer individuals," expressed Sonu and Nikesh with concern. The couple said that the repercussions of the verdict are far-reaching, with particularly dire consequences for those queer couples who have disclosed their identities or relationships to unsupportive families. These couples will face significant challenges as they seek acceptance in society.
While Sonu and Nikesh have been fortunate to enjoy the support of their accepting families and lead openly authentic lives, they recognize that their situation is markedly different from that of countless other LGBTQ+ couples who have not been able to disclose their identities or relationships to their families. "The families who harbour hostility towards such relationships will bear the brunt of this judgment," the couple noted with empathy. "For these queer gay couples, the judgment represents a formidable obstacle on their path to claiming their rightful spaces within society, and it will undoubtedly impose substantial struggles upon them."
Nikesh added, "Heterosexual and homosexual individuals are two sides of the same coin. Both groups have equal rights, and even the justices agreed that queer individuals should have the same rights as everyone else. In a society where homosexuals and heterosexuals stand on equal ground, a verdict like this is not only disappointing but also disheartening. Such a ruling should never have come about, especially in a diverse nation like India, which the world looks upon."
The couple also appreciated comments made by CJI Chandrachud, stating that his remarks were highly encouraging. He acknowledged all the rights of the queer community, including those related to marital relations, inheritance, and even adoption. However, as the opinions of the other judges were presented, their hopes were dashed.
At one point, it seemed like things were looking up. The court was in favor of allowing queer couples to have joint bank accounts, obtain ration cards, adopt children, and secure inheritance rights—signifying a positive step forward. However, there was a shift in the court's stance. Justice Kaul also expressed favorable comments, but the other three judges ultimately voted against the petitioners. The final verdict stated that the court could not grant recognition, and the power to make such decisions rested with Parliament. This turn of events left the couple emotionally devastated, as their hopes for inclusivity and a dignified life were completely shattered.
Nikesh expressed, "Sonu and I are prepared to face any adversities without shedding tears. However, there are many individuals who have not been accepted by society and their own families. So, when these young people called and shared their pain, I couldn't help but shed tears with them. We have done our utmost, and this situation feels like being thrown before a group that despises us, views us negatively, and, to make it worse, it was done by an institution as significant as the Supreme Court, which is truly unfortunate."
" I even confided in my mother that, until now, I had hoped we could continue living in India despite the challenging environment. But today, after this judgment, I find myself contemplating a move to a European nation or the United States. We've persisted in our pursuit of justice, but our hopes are fading. In India, the concept of democracy feels like nothing more than a word," the couple shared with a heavy heart.
The couple also stated, "Though we are disappointed, we will continue our fight. We are growing old, and we don't believe we will be able to enjoy these rights in our lifetime due to the far-reaching implications of the Supreme Court's verdict. However, we will persist in our battle because virtue is on our side, and we will eventually achieve justice. Even if we may not witness it in our lifetime, the fight will endure for the younger generation."