Gay marriage: Can India ever do what Ireland has done?

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Tue, May 26th, 2015, 17:11:46hrs
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Gay marriage: Can India ever do what Ireland has done?
“Throughout my youth, adolescence and young adulthood, it was a criminal offence to be gay...there was a fear of criminal prosecution, of being involuntarily placed in a lunatic asylum, losing your job, being socially destroyed. It was a terrible situation.”

That was what 70-year-old senator and long-time civil rights campaigner, David Norris, told The New York Times after the results of the Irish vote on gay marriage were announced.

Ironically, the situation that he recounts prevailed decades ago in a Catholic country, but continues to prevail right now in India, a secular country.

Ireland is a nation where Roman Catholicism has such an influence on law that abortion is illegal under most circumstances; yet, the people and the government have managed to brush aside the powerful Church, and vote for equality.

Ireland spoke out in favour of gay marriage, and resoundingly so. Thousands gathered in the streets, and the internet was rife with pictures of the coincidental double rainbow over Dublin on the day of the vote.

The celebration was not simply about the final decision, but the number of people who stepped out to cast their votes, and the fact that they were overwhelmingly in favour of equality for gay couples.

More than 60 percent of those eligible cast their votes, and 42 out of 43 districts were in favour of the legislation. The motion won with 62 percent of voters in favour, and only 38 opposed.

Quite wonderfully, the ‘Yes’-es cut across barriers of gender, sexual orientation, age, and socio-economic class.

It is depressing to think that in India, the one issue that united leaders of practically every religion – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and sundry godmen – and got them to share a single platform, and bond with people with whom they would never see eye to eye on anything else, was the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2009. When homosexuality was re-criminalised, they came back together to celebrate on television. Some even offered ‘cures’ for homosexuality, ranging from yoga to herbs to prayer.

Only last week, a newspaper carried India’s first same-sex matrimonial advertisement, accepting that the advertisement legal on a technicality.

Yet, this ad landed in controversy. The liberals were unhappy that the mother of the groom, who had placed the ad, put in the clause ‘Iyer preferred’. The conservatives were unhappy that the ad was even printed.

Let us look at the countries where gay marriage is legal. Twenty countries in the West have now legalised gay marriage, with Ireland becoming the latest to join the list. In the United States, 37 of the constituent states have legalised same-sex marriages.

In other words, every country whose economic and social status to which we in India aspire, is willing to allow people to marry, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Let us now look at the countries where gay marriage is illegal. There is Russia, of course, not exactly a leader in civil rights. And there is the Middle East. And there is South Asia.

In most of the countries where gay rights are recognised, the move involved legislation that overruled the prevailing opinion of the governing religious body.

Yet, in India, whose secularity is enshrined in the Constitution, where no religion can technically stand in the way of gay marriage, not only did we take close to two centuries to decriminalise ‘unnatural sex’, but we re-criminalised it within five years.

If it isn’t religion that stands in our way, to what can we attribute such prejudice? Is it simply the penal code we inherited from our colonisers? Is it a misinformed moral stance? Is it our hesitation to talk openly of anything that involves sex, ranging from orientation to sex crimes?

Since the re-criminalisation of ‘unnatural sex’, members of the LGBT community have reported harassment by the very authorities who are in place to stop such harassment, including the police.

A Bangalore-based woman who caught her husband with another man using hidden cameras chose to book him under Section 377 rather than adultery or duping; this placed him in danger of being jailed for any period from ten years to life, while the latter would carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

While no one disputes the fact that the woman got a terrible deal, it is horrifying that her husband’s ‘crime’ of being attracted to men is punishable by a longer jail term than rape.

If a country which is swayed by religion to the extent that Ireland is can embrace the idea of same-sex marriage, what is stopping us in India?

How can we claim to be moving towards development if a section of our population is not even free to love and marry someone of a compatible sexual orientation?

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on www.nandinikrishnan.com


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