Why The LIC Provision For Nominating Same Sex Partner Is Useless Without Marriage Equality

Nominee is not the same as successor, who is usually related to the policy holder by birth, consanguinity, marriage or adoption. It is not your same-sex partner. 

LIC of India has recently confirmed that there is no legal bar on anyone for making their same sex partner a nominee in their insurance policies. This was in response to an RTI filed by a Kolkata-based queer couple, Suchandra Das and Sree Mukherjee.

The couple had filed RTI applications to both LIC and RBI with their queries of whether a person not related by birth, consanguinity, adoption or marriage can be a nominee, and both had said that they could. While Suchandra shared that LIC reverted with more clarity, in effect anyone, whether a stranger or a legal entity, can be nominated by the policy holder or the bank account holder.

Is this a new development?

Last year during the third anniversary of the decriminalization of consensual queer intimacy between adults by reading down of parts of Section 377 of the IPC, Axis Bank had announced a ‘new’ policy. Some elements of the policy were nothing new, it just reiterated the fact that you could open a joint account with your partner of any gender or sex or make them your nominee.

While Axis Bank’s policy was mostly pinkwashing, it goes to show that the responses of LIC and RBI are not any major development or achievement by the queer community. It is just reiteration of facts. No employee of a bank or LIC agent has the right to prevent you from making your partner your nominee.

There is no real benefit for the queer community!

As a senior counsel from Calcutta High Court has explained, becoming a nominee does not automatically make the person a successor to that policy or bank account, unless a will specifies that. In the absence of the policy holder, the insurance funds would go to the successor of the policy holder. The successor is usually related to the policy holder by birth, consanguinity, marriage or adoption. It is not your same-sex partner.

Legally or politically or socially, queer individuals are nowhere near achieving equality or equal citizenship rights. Only last week five trans women found themselves verbally and physically abused by some cis women in the City Centre in Agartala and then by a group of as many as 40 men. Laws do not sufficiently protect queer and trans people even from physical harm, the Trans Act being a case in point.

Further, particularly working class and Dalit queer and trans people cannot even access whatever laws there are in place due to social ostracisation and police apathy and harassment.

Only marriage equality can make a difference to our legal status

With this reality at the backdrop, the community needs so much more than merely being able to make your partner your nominee. All of the institutions of the state are structured around the concept of the heterosexual family unit. Your queer partner would not be able to marry you, have a child with you, whether through IVF, surrogacy or adoption, they would not inherit any share of your property, or can have no claim on your pension.

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Marriage equality can make a tremendous impact on the various rights that are denied to queer couples, but a state that does not recognise non-binary identities or refuses self-identification of gender as the basis of trans identity, cannot change its laws in a way that would be inclusive of every queer identity. Even if marriage equality becomes a reality, it would only mean that uppercaste queers from urban areas would be assimilated into the dominant structure.

So, being able to nominate your partner to your LIC policy does not simply cut it. We have always been able to do it, yet it has not changed the reality of the people. Instead of passing off already existing provisions as pro-LGBT identities, LIC and the banks have to start with being more inclusive of their own employees and staff and then their clients. Some corporations like Godrej or Tata extend medical insurance and paid leave for child care, Hindustan Unilever Limited also has provisions for extending support for gender reaffirming processes. Benefits that are available for heterosexual spouses should be made accessible to queer partners, too. Aside from some large MNCs, it still remains a distant dream. The community still has a long way to go.

Image source: a still from the film Badhai Do

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A postgraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional feminist and an avid reader when she's not busy telling people about her cats. Adores walking around and exploring read more...

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