Why Must I Support Marriage Equity a.k.a. Same Sex Marriage As A Cis-Het Ally?

All that a law granting marriage equity will do is to enable a person to formalise a relationship if they choose to do so- it will not force people to get into or solemnise a 'prohibited' relationship.

There is a lot of discussion everywhere on social media about marriage equity as our topmost court hears arguments in favour. Why should it matter if I support it or not, as a a cis het person? And why are cis het persons reacting negatively everywhere?

“What makes life meaningful is love. The right that makes us human is the right to love. To criminalize the expression of that right is profoundly cruel and inhumane. To acquiesce in such criminalization or, worse, to recriminalize it, is to display the very opposite of compassion. To show exaggerated deference to a majoritarian Parliament when the matter is one of fundamental rights is to display judicial pusillanimity, for there is no doubt, that in the constitutional scheme, it is the judiciary that is the ultimate interpreter”, wrote Justice Leila Seth in January 2014 after the Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the Delhi High Court and re-criminalised homosexuality.

Nine years after Justice Seth wrote those words in her famous article, we are one again reminded of them while we await the verdict on the Supreme Court on the pleas to legalise same sex marriage. Stripped to the basics, all that the petitioners are asking for is the fundamental right to live and love with dignity.

“Will legalising same sex marriage a.k.a. ‘marriage equity’ affect me as a cis het person?”

Legalising same sex marriages (or to use the broader term, ‘marriage equity’) does not impinge on the rights of anyone else.

Heterosexual unions will in no way be affected by granting marriage equity, nor will the Personal Laws have to be amended. The only people who will be impacted by extending the Special Marriage Act to include non heterosexual couples are people who, today, do not have the opportunity to formalise their relationship legally. When they are not directly affected in any way, why then are so many people against marriage equity?

“What if my religion prohibits homosexuality but marriage equity means I can be forced into a same sex marriage?”

Many who oppose the petition to legalise same sex marriage do so on religious grounds. They cite various scriptures (or their interpretation of scriptures) to prove that their respective religions prohibit homosexuality.

Without going into the details of the religious arguments, which I am certainly not competent to do, all I can say is that legalising same sex marriage is not the same as forcing people to marry someone of the same sex/ gender.

If a person’s religion prohibits a relationship with partners of the same sex, it should be upto the person to decide whether they want to get into a relationship which is prohibited by their religion or not. All that the law will do is to enable a person to formalise a relationship if they choose to do so- it will give legal sanction IF they choose to go in for a same sex marriage. It will certainly not force people to get into or solemnise a ‘prohibited’ relationship.

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“I am worried my spouse will leave me for a same sex partner if marriage equity is legalised!”

Many people seem to worry that if same sex marriages are legalised, their legally wedded spouse may leave them for a homosexual partner. This argument has no merit. If the foundation of a marriage is so fragile that the only reason the person is staying in the marriage is because they are legally prohibited from getting married to someone of the same gender, then the marriage for all practical purposes is already non-existent.

Not surprisingly, this argument is put forward by men who worry that their wives might leave them for a female partner- clearly the men understand that the existing heterosexual union is skewed against the woman, and therefore worry about anything that might disturb the unequal equilibrium.

“Youngsters will say they are queer just because they think it’s cool or to ‘experiment’!”

Some others use statistics to argue against legalising same sex marriage.

According to a widely shared data point, “In the eight years since the US legalised homosexuality, 40% of Gen Zees and 30% of Young Christians have started identifying as LGBTQ.” Without getting into whether this data is correct (or otherwise), this is actually the best argument in favour of legalising same sex marriage.

Homosexuality is not a choice, but people may choose to hide their sexual orientation because of social stigma and/ or the legal environment. If, indeed, a significant percentage of people came out as LGBTQ after homosexuality was decriminalised, it only shows that a large number of people were earlier forced to hide their sexual orientation. Legalising same sex marriage will, therefore, create an enabling environment to ensure dignity and equity for every individual regardless of their sexual orientation.

“This will negatively affect children if they see same sex couples married!”

A few people use concern for their children as a reason to oppose marriage equity. According to them, if same sex marriage is legalised, they will not be able to protect their children from seeing gay or lesbian couples, and this might confuse the children.

What these people choose to ignore is the fact that enabling children to interact with people who are different from themselves helps develop a feeling of empathy in the children. More importantly, in a heteronormative society like ours, it is important for children who may be confused about their own gender identity or sexual orientation to be aware that non traditional families are also possible, and that they are not different.

One can also argue, as I often do, that a large percentage of children in India come from families where domestic violence is prevalent- if we are not worried about our children witnessing domestic abuse, why are we so concerned about them seeing homosexual couples?

“I’m worried what may ‘come out of this’ in the future!”

Who knows what may “come out of this”, is the reason why some people use to oppose marriage equity.

While it is virtually impossible to counter a delightfully vague statement like this, it is clear that it is either one or a combination of more than one of the above reasons that is driving the statement. Each of the reasons can be countered individually, but how do you deal with fear? Because at the heart of the statement is a fear of the unknown and a belief that anyone who doesn’t conform to society’s prescribed norms doesn’t deserve to be happy.

“This is a newfangled urban, western fad and doesn’t concern the rest of Indians so why legalise it?!”

Some opponents of marriage equity have declared that it is an issue that only concerns the urban elite. That, by itself, doesn’t disqualify the judiciary from needing to pass a judgement on it if a petition has been made.

Also, there is no basis for proclaiming that this is an issue of the urban elite only. People in rural areas and socio-economically backward people too can struggle with their gender identity and/ or sexual orientation. For them, issues of survival may be more important than the issue of marriage equity, but once the law is amended to legalise same sex marriage, they too can take advantage of it.

“Marriage is an outdated concept so why do ‘these people’ now need marriage?”

While all these come from people who oppose marriage equity as a concept, the more insidious arguments are made by people who pretend to be extremely liberal. “Marriage is an outdated concept”, they proclaim. “The institution of marriage itself should be abolished. Why should anyone be fighting for same sex marriage?”

Statements like these come from a position of privilege. If you are from a demographic that has always enjoyed the right to get married, you really cannot be commenting on someone else demanding the same right.

These people should realise that there is a difference between an individual choosing to reject the institution of marriage and another individual being denied the right to get married in the first place. The two are not equivalent, and it is in bad faith to attempt to equate the two. Clearly people are fighting for marriage equity, because they want to get married whatever the reason.

Why are people demanding marriage equity?

In a nation like ours where everyone is obsessed with marriage, should we even be asking why people want same sex marriages to be legalised? From a very young age, assorted uncles and aunties take pleasure in asking us when we intend getting married– wouldn’t a person want to introduce their same sex partner as their legally wedded partner? When every third reel on Instagram shows wedding shenanigans of some kind, can we blame a homosexual couple from dreaming of a Big Fat Indian Wedding?

There are also practical reasons for getting married. Though a few banks allow homosexual couples to open joint accounts, the vast majority of banks only permit legally wedded couples to open joint accounts. A legal marriage will allow couples to claim insurance for their spouse, and to mention them as nominees in legal documents. Even issues like leasing accommodation, booking hotels and availing of “couple discounts” will be much easier if a couple is married.

Most importantly, marriage equity empowers non-heterosexual couples to love and live with dignity and without guilt.

Like Justice Leila Seth, I am a mother. Unlike her, I do not yet know the gender identity and sexual orientation of my teenage children. But as a mother, I want my children and other children to have the right to live and love in dignity. And, stripped to the basics, that is all the petition for legalising same sex marriage is all about- the right to live in dignity.

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Image source: a still from the film Badhaai Do

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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