‘Disappointment’ is the only word reverbrating through the LGBTQ community after the Supreme Court’s Tuesday verdict against legalising same sex marriages. It’s no different for 58-year-old Manvendrasinh Gohil — popularly known as the gay prince of India — from the royal dynasty of Rajpipla in Narmada district.
The verdict dashed his hopes of legalising the 10-year-old long distance relationship with his US-based partner, 44-year-old De Andre Richardson, in India. At the same time, Gohil feels the SC judgement has “opened avenues” to continue the legal fight.
“Personally, the judgment is disappointing. It ends the hopes I had with my partner as the aspect of Foreign Marriage Act was not even touched upon… We were looking forward to legalising the relationship but now we don’t see being together in India in one place. Being a US national, Andre cannot live in India and I cannot live in the US. We were apart for nearly three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and spent four months together in 2022,” Gohil, who resides in Rajpipla, told The Indian Express. Andre runs a publishing business in the US that makes it difficult to travel frequently for long periods.
At the same time, Gohil expressed confidence that the “positive aspects” of the legal battle being fought by the LGBTQ community will bring about an eventual change.
Highlighting the positives, he said, “If we take the verdict positively, it was a welcome move that although we did not ask for ‘forced conversion therapy’ to be banned, the court took note of it… You cannot force a person to change their sexual orientation. The verdict also allows transmen and transwomen the right to marry just like a heterosexual couple and it has come without having to change any law. But most importantly, the SC has now made it clear that it is not the mandate of the court to change the law and hence, we need to move the legislative process with advocacy. This is a fight that must go on just like we filed a curative petition in the case of scrapping Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.”
Recounting an incident when he was booked by the police for helping a homosexual individual, Gohil said, “The SC has also directed something that I was personally fighting for. The police have no right to force a person to go back to their parents if they don’t want to… I have once been booked in a case for helping a homosexual and giving him shelter and the police forced him to return to his parents… The SC has also suggested that homosexual couples can be entitled to a bouquet of benefits but has left it to a committee to be headed by a Cabinet secretary to decide on the benefits, which is worrisome.”
Gohil, who runs Lakshya, a charitable trust that works to empower the gay and transgender community and spread awareness about HIV/AIDS in Vadodara, emphasised that the government took five years after the landmark judgement in the case of NALSA vs Union of India in 2014 to pass the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. “The Act was a complete dilution of the judgement and so, there are genuine concerns in this case. There is no deadline given and it will also dilute important points of inheritance and adoption,” he said.
On the issue of homosexual partners being reduced to poverty following the death of their life partners, the gay rights activist said, “The SC could have granted rights to homosexuals as heterosexual couples to have joint bank accounts, joint properties and direct inheritance in case one partner dies. Currently, if such a thing happens, the other lives in poverty as families of the deceased partner stake claim on properties as legal heirs… How long will it take to change this?”
The former ambassador of US’s AIDS Healthcare Foundation also feels that a favourable SC verdict would have helped reduce the social stigma that families associate with homosexual children. “…the SC did recognise that the LGBTQ community continues to face harassment, humiliation and violation of human rights… Although this did not go as expected, it is definitely a significant achievement that in India, we have seen three major judgments in a span of a decade — beginning with scrapping of Section 377, then the NALSA judgement and now this… Our advocates now need to change their strategy. We have to advocate with the legislature and continue to fight so that there will be an eventual social and legal change in the country for a future generation to benefit from,” Gohil added.
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