India’s Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex in September 2018, a historic ruling that LGBTQ activists hoped would usher in a new era of acceptance in the country.
India’s state-sanctioned homophobia can be traced back to its colonial past. Section 377, which outlaws “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” was first introduced under British rule and has proved difficult to erase.
But speaking after the Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said interpreting Section 377 to criminalize gay sex was “irrational, arbitrary and indefensible.” Finally, Britain’s homophobic legacy in the country was being chased out.
But eight months on, the shift in attitudes toward LGBTQ citizens hasn’t been as groundbreaking as originally hoped. Same-sex couples are still unable to marry, list their partners as their next of kin or adopt children.
One lesbian couple from the Punjab state, a conservative region where homophobic attacks are common, thought getting together would be the biggest trial in their relationship. Manjit Sandhu met her wife, Seerat, when she was working as a jail warden in the Punjab Police. Seerat was a former prisoner under her charge. They married in a religious ceremony in 2017, when homosexuality was still punishable by law.
Despite their unconventional meeting, they hoped their relationship would be more widely accepted after the historic Section 377 ruling. But when they went to organize a belated honeymoon to Canada, they were denied a visa.
Heterosexual couples in India can often avoid this problem by showing a marriage certificate, according to HuffPost India writer Rachna Khaira, who interviewed the couple. But that option is not available to couples like the Sandhus, who are still unable to register their marriage by law.
“The Sandhus’ story shows how the absence of any LGBTQ laws in India has made the iconic judgement of the Supreme Court redundant in ensuring equal rights for India’s LGBTQ community,” she said. “While couples like the Sandhus are coming forward to reveal their sexual orientation after the verdict, there is a dire need to ensure their social inclusion in Indian society.”
Rachna hopes India’s next government, which is in the process of being elected, will put LGBTQ rights in the country high on its agenda. “I hope that soon we will see a new era for India’s LGBTQ community,” she said. Watch this space.
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