Same-Sex Unions in India. India’s Supreme Court recently rejected the legalization of same-sex marriage, causing disappointment among LGBTQ+ couples and activists. However, experts argue that same-sex unions have roots in Indian tradition dating back centuries.
Historical Silence on Same-Sex Love
During the 1970s to 1996, same-sex love was rarely discussed in academic and activist circles in India. Even within feminist politics, there was silence surrounding same-sex relationships.
Overturning Section 377
In 2018, India’s Supreme Court overturned Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized gay sex. This marked a significant shift in recognizing LGBTQ+ rights.
Historical Acceptance of Same-Sex Love
Scholars like Ruth Vanita have found evidence of same-sex love and romantic friendships in ancient and medieval India through texts in various languages. These relationships thrived without significant historical persecution.
Ancient Depictions of Love
Historian Rana Safvi mentions that love, including same-sex love, was celebrated in ancient and medieval India. Temple depictions in Khajuraho and Mughal chronicles offer evidence of fluid sexuality in Indian society.
Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Unions
India’s Supreme Court acknowledged the historical presence of same-sex unions in antiquity. These unions were recognized not just for sexual activity but as relationships fostering love, emotional support, and mutual care.
British Influence on Indian Perspectives
Ruth Vanita argues that British colonial rule led to a “radical” transformation in Indian perspectives on sex and love. Indian nationalists adopted Victorian ideals of heterosexual monogamy and distanced themselves from indigenous traditions that differed from these ideas.
Evidence in Ancient Texts
The Kamasutra, a 4th Century text, mentions the possibility of two men uniting as friends with complete trust in each other. Ancient texts also suggest that same-sex attachments can last across lifetimes.
Early Documented Same-Sex Marriage
The earliest documented same-sex marriage in contemporary India was in 1988 when two policewomen, Leela Namdeo and Urmila Srivastava, solemnized their union in Madhya Pradesh. Despite job suspensions, these unions gained support from friends and family.
Recent Same-Sex Marriages
The media has covered a series of same-sex weddings predominantly involving young Hindu women. These brides often come from lower-middle-class backgrounds and small towns but lack legal recognition for their unions.
Struggles and Progress
Despite legal challenges, many same-sex couples in India have chosen marriage to symbolize their love, echoing cross-sex couples’ romantic struggles against social norms. In lower-income and non-English speaking communities, couples have been pioneers of marriage equality.
The struggle for recognition and legal rights for same-sex couples continues in India.