That the Indian Supreme Court should re-criminalise gay relationships based on a colonial law that the United Kingdom has long thrown out the window is an irony that has not gone unnoticed in the U.K., where a much-awaited government announcement promising a spring deadline for same- sex marriages has just been made.
On Tuesday, Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller announced that the same sex couples could get married from March 29 next in England and Wales, under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, 2013, which received an overwhelming approval in Parliament in July this year.
“We are shocked and disappointed that the Supreme Court in India has overturned the 2009 High Court judgment,” Jasmine O’Conner, Senior International Officer of Stonewall, a leading campaign and lobby group for gay and lesbian rights in the U.K., told The Hindu . “We hope the Indian parliament will now seek a repeal of this.”
“It comes with the wonderful news that we will see gay marriages next spring, something that Stonewall campaigned hard for,” Ms. O’Conner added.
For Laila Ghory, of Parsi parentage, who has been in a civil partnership with an American woman for the last three years, the news is “shocking” and will be a setback for gay South Asian couples who come from tradition-bound families in the U.K. “One would have thought that for a country that wants progress, India would be sensitive to colonial laws. Britain is seeing gay marriage being made possible in the next three months,” said the IT professional, whose own civil partnership function was celebrated in a room in the North Tower of London’s iconic Tower Bridge in the summer of 2010.
Gay couples can legally live together in the U.K. under the Civil Partnership Act (2005) that gives same-sex partners the same rights and responsibilities of marriage, but which, says Richard Lane, Media Manager for Stonewall, “does not have the history and credibility that marriage as an institution has, and that gay people want.”
“There are roughly 60,000 couples who are in civil partnerships in the U.K.,” said Mr. Lane, “about five times higher than what the government had predicted in 2005 when the civil partnership law was introduced.” He says Stonewall has been flooded with requests from people who want to know how to convert their civil partnership into marriage.
British Olympic diver Tom Daley’s recent announcement that he was dating a man makes him part of a large number of celebrity couples and individuals who are gay in the U.K. Gay couples are prominent not only within the arts and entertainment sector, but in what is often viewed as the rather more crusty and conservative domain of politics.
Within the political establishment, among those who have declared themselves as gay are Margot James, Conservative Member of Parliament from Stourbridge; Alan Duncan, Conservative and Minister of State for International Development; Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats; Lord Collins, a peer and former Labour general secretary; Lord Mandelson, who was in the Cabinet of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; and Lord Alli, Labour, the first Muslim Peer and gay member of the House of Lords.
Maria Miller’s statement said: “This is just another step in the evolution of marriage.” From March 29, 2014, “it will be open to everyone, irrespective of whether they fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite sex,” she said adding that couples “can now plan for their big day and demonstrate their love [for] and commitment to each other by getting married.”