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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage in India

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Homophobia in India:

In 2009-JUL, an Indian court overturned a colonial law that considered voluntary "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" 1 (homosexual behavior) a serious crime punishable with up to 10 years in jail. However, animus against sexual minorities is still common in India. A national survey of urban areas by the CNN-IBN news service found that:

  • 70% of Indian adults believe that homosexual behavior should be illegal.
  • 83% felt that homosexuality is not part of Indian culture.
  • 90% would not rent their houses to a gay or lesbian couple. 2

If rural areas had been included in the survey, the levels of disapproval would undoubtedly have been even greater.

Many lesbians and gays live with their parents and refer to their partners as friends out of fear of being disowned by their families. Same-sex couples who live together often pretend to be simple roommates in order to avoid being evicted by their landlords or of being blackmailed by the police. Some lesbians and gays march in gay pride parades, but often wear masks to hide their identity.

There is the same type of division over the morality of homosexual behavior as is found in the West: most conservative religious leaders actively oppose it, while social and human rights groups cooperate with LGBT organizations in promoting equality for persons of all sexual orientations. Gay tourism is on the rise in the country. 1

According to the London newspaper "The Telegraph:"

"Former ... [Member of Parliament] P. B. P. Singhal from India’s main Opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party believes homosexuality to be an 'evil exported from the West' - a view echoed by many other parliamentarians.

And Father Dominic Emanuel of India's Catholic Bishop Council reacted angrily when the legal ban on gays was lifted saying that the church did not 'approve' of homosexual behaviour as it did not consider it 'natural, ethical or moral.'

The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference in southern India went a step further by declaring that homosexuality was against Indian culture: 'We will oppose it and since our country is a democratic one, there is no way that this can be legalised through legislation. The church's views will have to be sought,' conference spokesperson Father Stephen Alathara said." 2

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Marriage in India:

However, among Hindus, "... there is no role for the state as marriage remained a private affair within the social realm." 3 Because of a loophole in the Hindu Marriage Act, the marriage of any two Hindus who marry according to the customs prevalent in either spouse's community is valid. No marriage license is actually required. Thus, most opposite-sex marriages between two Hindus in the country are not supported by a license and are not registered by the government.

According to Wikipedia:

"... since 1987, when the national press carried the story of two policewomen who married each other by Hindu rites in central India, the press has reported many same-sex marriages, all over the country, mostly between lower middle class young women in small towns and rural areas, who have no contact with any gay movement. Family reactions range from support to disapproval to violent persecution. While police generally harass such couples, Indian courts have uniformly upheld their right, as adults, to live with whomever they wish. In recent years, some of these couples have appeared on television as well.

There have also been numerous joint suicides by same-sex couples, mostly female (male-female couples also resort to suicide or to elopement and religious marriage when their families oppose their unions). In "Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History", 5  author Ruth Vanita analyses dozens of such marriages and suicides that have taken place over the last three decades, and explores their legal, religious, and historical aspects. She argues that many of the marriages can arguably be considered legally valid, as under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, any marriage between two Hindus performed according to the customs prevalent in the community of one of the two partners is legally valid. ... State recognition is not sought by most couples because it confers few benefits. Most couples seek the validation of family and community, and several [same-sex] female couples in rural areas and small towns have received this validation.

There have also been a couple of high profile celebrity same-sex marriages, such as the civil union of designer Wendell Rodricks with his French partner Jerome Marrel, conducted under French law in Goa, India. LGBT rights organisations have demanded the right to same-sex marriage, and, inspired both by news from the West, have discussed the issue. 1

2011-JUL: India's first state-sanctioned married lesbian couple:

According to The Telegraph newspaper:

"Savita, a 25 year old student at Choudhary Charan Singh University and her 20 year old wife Veena, 20, were married by a court in Haryana, close to New Delhi, earlier this month.

The couple approached the district court in Gurgaon, a satellite city of the Indian capital, and complained that Savita had been forced to marry against her will earlier this year. She had left her husband five months after the forced marriage after telling him she was in a lesbian relationship with Veena.

The court effectively granted her a divorce and gave its approval for her to marry Veena. In the court ceremony on [2011-] July 22, Savita was designated 'husband' and Veena 'wife' in India's first lesbian marriage.

The couple later returned to court after receiving threats from friends and relatives in their village.

Their lawyer said the court had served notice on 14 of Veena's relatives and villagers who had threatened them with 'dire consequences.'

Haryana has been the centre of widespread protests by villagers who believe their village councils, or khaps should be allowed to impose their own punishments on those who disobey their rulings or break local traditions – mainly honour killings of those who marry within their own gotra or sub-caste, regarded in the state as akin to incest.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Dr. Abhe Singh told The Daily Telegraph: 'The couple has been shifted to a safe house and we have provided adequate security to them on the court orders. The security is provided on the basis of threat perception and in this case the couple feared that their families might be against the relationship'." 4


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Homosexuality in India," Wikipedia, as at 2011-JUL-27, at:
  2. Rahul Bedi, "Homophobia persists in India despite court reforms," The Telegraph, 2011-JUL-05, at:
  3. "Hindu Marriage Act," Wikipedia, as at 2011-JUL-25, at:
  4. Dean Nelson, "India's first married lesbian couple given 24-hour protection," The Telegraph, 2011-JUL-26, at:
  5. Book cover image Ruth Vanita  & Saleem Kidwai, Eds., "Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History," Palgrave Macmillan, (2001). Read reviews or order this book in paperback, safely from the online book store

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Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > here

Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUL-31
Latest update: 2013-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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