India law

Government should appoint a committee to decide the rights and entitlements of queer couples: Supreme Court

By  our  Legal  Correspondent

New  Delhi, Oct 18  (IVC) The  five-judges  Constitution Bench  of the Supreme  Court  on Oct  17 here  stressed  the  need   for  constituting a  Committee   to  decide the  rights and  entitlements of  queer  couples.

                The  Bench  consisted of Chief  Justice, D Y Chandrachud , Justices  S K  kaul,  P  S  Narasimha,S  Ravindra Bhat  and Hima  Kohli   said that  same-sex  marriages  cannot   legalize   while  considering  the   pleas  for  according  legal  validity   for  same-sex  marriages   and  only  the  legislature can  recognize  or  regulate queer marriage.  The Bench  also  held  that  since  there  was no  fundamental  or  unqualified right  to  marry,  the  courts  cannot  intervene.

                However, the Bench failed  to  reach  a  consensus  on providing  even  long  abiding relationships between  queer couples  the  status  of  a   legally  recognized  “civil  union”.  This was  despite  all  five  judges  on  the  Bench  unanimously accepting that  it  was  time  to  end discrimination against  same-sex couples.

                Chief  Justice  of  India, who  became  a  minority on the  Bench with  Justice  Sanjay Kishan  Kaul,  declared  that queer couple have a  fundamental right to  form relationships and the  State  was  obligated  to  recognize  and grant legal  status  to  such  unions,  so  that  same-sex couples  could  avail   the  material benefits provided under  the  law.

On the  other  hand , Justices S R Bhat and Hima Kohli, in their opinion backed  by  a  separate one  by  Justice  P  S  Narasimha   to  form  the  majority  judgment of  the  bench held  that “ an entitlement to  legal  recognition of  the  right to union,  or  conferring  legal  status upon  the  parties to  the  relationship- can be only  through enacted  law”.

                The  Bench  refused  to  tinker  with  the  Special  Marriage  Act.  Chief  Justice  said  it  was within the  legislative domain to  rid the  1954  Act  of  its “institutional limitations”. Justice  Bhat  found the  petitioners’ plea to  read  various  provisions of  the  Act in  a  gender-neutral  manner, so  as  to enable same –sex  marriage “unsustainable”.

                In his  minority opinion, the  Chief  Justice held  that the  right to  form a  union was  a  feature  of  the  fundamental right  to  choose  partners  and  lead a  dignified , meaningful lifr. Equally  cannot   be  denied to same-sex   couples on  the  basis of  their  sexual  orientation ,  he  said,  emphasizing  that  queer  persons  have  a right to  form abiding relationshipsChandrachud held  that queerness was  a  natural  phenomenon, neither urban nor  elite,  adding  that  the  conception of  marriage was  neither universal nor  static.   

“It  is  insufficient  if  persons have  the  ability  and  freedom to  form relationships  unregulated by  the  State.  For  the  full enjoyment of  such  relationships,  it  is  necessary that  the State  accord  recognition  to  such relationships”  Chief Justice  Chandrachud said.

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