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Four couples are petitioning India's Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Five years ago, India decriminalized gay sex, and now some gay and lesbian couples are petitioning the Supreme Court to take the next step - legalizing gay marriage. But the government is opposed, and this week, its lawyers are testifying as to why. From Mumbai, Raksha Kumar reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CLINKING IN GLASS)

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: Susan Dias pours herself a drink and reflects on how far she and her partner have come as a gay couple in traditional India.

SUSAN DIAS: Whatever fears I might have had coming out, I live a good life with my family, my friends, colleagues, neighbors. I am not in the closet anymore.

KUMAR: She and her partner, Aditi Anand, have built a life together for 12 years, and now they're one of four couples who have filed petitions to India's highest court seeking to legalize same sex marriages. Aditi says, it's time for the world's biggest democracy to do this. Equality is something her family has valued for generations. There's an even more personal reason Aditi and Susan are seeking marriage equality now. They have a toddler, and they'd like to have more children. But Indian law currently allows for only one of the moms to be the legal parent.

ADITI ANAND: There is no reason that our children should be denied the right to two parents. I want them when they grow up to know that their parents were brave.

KUMAR: India retained a colonial-era law criminalizing same-sex couples for over a century until 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And in a historic judgment, the Supreme Court has legalized homosexuality.

KUMAR: Queer communities poured out into the streets, dancing, flaunting pride colors, celebrating the verdict. Since then, the fight for marriage equality has accelerated. It would be a significant shift in thinking about many laws, says legal scholar Akshat Agarwal.

AKSHAT AGARWAL: Because most of our family law is highly patriarchal and it assumes a very fixed notion of who a husband is and who a wife is and all other provisions, say, around divorce, around economic maintenance, are built on that. And we have not had much success in changing any of that law in India.

KUMAR: If marriage equality becomes law, other laws on everything from divorce to alimony, inheritance and parenthood may have to be reimagined. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has different ideas, though. Gay marriage is a foreign concept, a BJP lawmaker, Sushil Modi, who has no relation to the prime minister, told Parliament in December.

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SUSHIL MODI: The same-sex marriage or the lesbian or the gay marriage has not been recognized, and it is contrary to the Indian ethos, Indian culture, Indian traditions.

KUMAR: Not all Hindu nationalists share that view, though. Gay marriage proponents and couples like Susan and Aditi recently got support from someone they least expected - the head of the most powerful Hindu nationalist organization in India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAN BHAGWAT: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: "Gay people are a part of our society and have the right to live the way they want to," the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, said in a video posted online last month, signaling his support for same-sex marriages. And hearing that gives Susan hope that her big fat Indian wedding may finally be on the cards, which also means she may have to conquer her fears when it comes to one of her partner Aditi's these requests.

DIAS: It is truly her dream that there is this sangeet where we are doing a choreographed dance, and it is truly my nightmare.

KUMAR: A small hurdle for Susan on the way to marriage equality for India.

For NPR News, I'm Raksha Kumar in Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Raksha Kumar