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India's top court defers same sex marriage decision, upsetting LGBTQ rights advocates

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Today was a day that activists in India had been waiting for. The country's top court was going to rule on whether to legalize same-sex marriages, but it didn't happen. The five judges hearing the case ruled that only the Indian parliament could make that decision. So what happens next? NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Mumbai.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In a judgment broadcast live, the justices said the court didn't have the authority to legalize same-sex marriage. But one of the justices, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, made his feelings clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANJAY KISHAN KAUL: Non-heterosexual unions and heterosexual union marriages ought to be considered at two sides of the same coin. I believe this moment presents an opportunity of reckoning with this historical injustice.

HADID: And the Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had said same-sex relationships were part of India's history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D Y CHANDRACHUD: Queerness is a natural phenomenon known to India since ancient times. It is not urban or elite.

HADID: That appeared a rebuke of the Indian government's solicitor general, who described same-sex marriage as urban elitist in a submission against legalizing the unions. After 21 activists brought the plea before the Supreme Court earlier this year, they argued they were being discriminated against because they couldn't lawfully marry. The government has so far not commented, but aligned groups have celebrated the ruling. So has Vishnu Gupta, the leader of a fringe group, the Hindu Sena.

VISHNU GUPTA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He says the court is right to defer to Parliament and marriage is only between a man and a woman. The court did order the government to set up a committee to investigate ways to eliminate discrimination facing same-sex couples, but it's not clear when that will happen. Anish Gawande is a prominent advocate for equality for India's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, often short handed to LGBTQ.

ANISH GAWANDE: We must remember that it is an election year next year, which means that the government is going to be less likely, if likely at all, to take any action on the matter.

HADID: Gawande says India has come far on LGBTQ rights. Most prominently, five years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex a crime. But more progress now on same-sex marriage is in the hands of a government which has so far actively resisted it. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF OUTKAST SONG, "LIBERATION (FEAT. CEELO GREEN, ERYKAH BADU AND BIG RUBE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.

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