Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Opposition Parties Prioritize LGBTQIA+ Rights in Inclusive Manifestos

Following extensive consultations, Congress pledges to introduce legislation recognizing civil unions for LGBTQIA+ couples, announces Congress.
A pride-goer holding a placard
A pride-goer holding a placardSource- TIME Magazine

New Delhi- Looks like queer issues have finally made their way into India’s electoral politics. Amidst the fervor of the Lok Sabha Elections 2024, a significant shift in India's political landscape has emerged as opposition parties unveil their manifestos, placing a spotlight on LGBTQIA+ rights.

The Indian National Congress released its election manifesto on April 5th. According to it, they “will expand Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of 'disability,' 'impairment,' or 'sexual orientation'.”

This was not the only promise made for sexual and gender minorities. They also stated that, after wide consultation, Congress will bring a law to recognize civil unions between couples belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community.

It is important to note here that 'civil union' is distinct from marriage, denoting a legal status that grants certain rights typically associated with married couples to queer partners. However, unlike marriage, a civil union lacks the same recognition within personal law.

It is important to note that the INC is not the only national party that has talked about queer rights. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), in its manifesto, stated the following for the community:

  • Revise the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, to address concerns raised by the community. This includes providing legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples through legislation similar to the Special Marriage Act, 1954, allowing partners to be listed as dependents and ensuring inheritance and alimony rights in case of divorce.

  • Introduce a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill covering LGBTQ+ individuals, along with reservation policies in educational institutions and horizontal reservation in employment to promote inclusivity.

  • Ensure that crimes against LGBTQ+ persons are treated with the same severity as crimes against non-LGBTQ+ individuals.

  • Implement measures to address bullying, violence, and harassment faced by gender non-conforming and LGBTQ+ students, staff, and teachers in educational settings. This includes enforcing UGC anti-ragging policies that specifically address ragging based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as providing accessible and safe bathrooms for trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals.

  • Ensure that sex change surgeries for LGBTQI individuals are conducted only with their informed consent.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time the CPI(M) has expressed support for LGBTQIA+ rights in its manifesto. During the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the party's manifesto advocated for comprehensive anti-discriminatory legislation covering the LGBTQIA+ community. The party called for reservation in education and horizontal reservation in employment for LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The manifesto also proposed passing the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, and ensuring legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples through civil union legislation similar to the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury pledged to treat crimes against LGBTQ individuals on par with crimes against non-LGBT persons. Additionally, the party promised measures to address bullying, violence, and harassment of gender non-conforming and LGBTQ students, staff, and teachers in educational institutions, including ensuring accessible and safe bathrooms for transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals.

Against a backdrop of evolving social consciousness and advocacy, these inclusive manifestos signal a decisive step towards fostering equality and acceptance for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"I feel hopeful reading this news," Manjush, a working professional belonging to the queer community, responded. "A hope that finally issues that were long-standing are being raised by a political party, even though in the form of a mere manifesto."

He further added that he is a bit skeptical too, as many conservative people are followers of the party and might be an obstacle to such a law if brought into effect.

What did the Supreme Court Say on Same-Sex Marriage?

On October 17th, 2023, a significant legal decision was made by the Supreme Court's Constitution bench regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. In a close 3-2 ruling, the court chose not to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages.

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, in his dissenting opinion, proposed the establishment of a structured regulatory framework that would acknowledge civil unions within same-sex relationships. He argued that restricting the right to form a union based on sexual orientation goes against fundamental principles, emphasizing that discrimination on such grounds is a violation of Article 15 of the Constitution. Article 15 explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of various factors, including religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.

Contrarily, the majority opinion, delivered by Justices SR Bhat, Hima Kohli, and PS Narasimha, highlighted the role of the legislature in formally recognizing and granting legal status to same-sex relationships. They suggested that the responsibility for this recognition lies with the legislative branch of the government, indicating that it is the legislature's domain to address such matters through appropriate legal channels.

The court further stated that there is no ‘fundamental right to marry.’

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