Even after their wedding, Indian gay couple Supriyo Chakraborty and Abhay Dang hesitated to use the word “husband” to refer to each other – conscious that their country does not recognise same-sex marriage.

“If anyone asks us if we’re married, I take two to three seconds pause to decide, shall I say yes or no?” Chakraborty told Openly during an interview in the couple’s home in the southern city of Hyderabad. “Because legally we are not.”

The pair, who met on a dating app and have lived together for over a decade, are leading a petition to India’s Supreme Court to legalise marriage for same-sex, transgender and non-binary couples. At least 19 other petitioners are supporting their case.

If the court rules in their favour, India would become the world’s largest country and only the second place in Asia – after Taiwan – to grant equal marriage rights to LGBTQ+ couples. A ruling is expected after the court’s summer vacation ends on July 3.

India’s highest court decriminalised homosexuality in 2018 by scrapping a colonial-era ban on gay sex, but same-sex couples say the ban on gay marriage denies them rights linked to medical consent, pensions, adoption or even club memberships.

“We are the most important people in each others’ lives, but we are still strangers in the eyes of the law,” said Chakraborty, 33, a professional wedding planner who carefully organised every detail of the couple’s own non-traditional ceremony.

India’s government has said in court filings that the petitions for equal marriage “merely reflect urban elitist views” and has argued that parliament, dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, should decide the issue.

Non-traditional wedding

Dang and Chakraborty said they had always wanted to marry. During the pandemic, they began consulting lawyers on how to make their dream come true.

“COVID had told us that life is fragile. What happens if one of us passes away? The other person has no rights, perhaps not even the right to carry out the funeral,” Dang said.

In the meantime, they decided to gather their friends and families and exchange vows in a non-traditional wedding ceremony that incorporated rituals from both families and different parts of India.

“The whole storytelling was almost like poetry,” said Chakraborty, who Dang described as “the creative one” in the relationship.

“There were a lot of hiccups. When people get to know that it’s a gay wedding, a lot of people said ‘we’re not available on that date’,” said Chakraborty, adding that they had hired bouncers and security guards in case of any disturbances.

When they exchanged vows, the whole crowd shouted “I do” along with the couple.

“Marriage is very important in Indian culture,” Chakraborty said. “Because all of our friends, our family, all our people were there. They are supporting us, they were part of the wedding, that gives a lot of acceptance.”

Regardless of the court’s decision, the couple said the case had prompted a wider conversation about LGBTQ+ people, and their rights, across India.

“One aspect of marriage is all the legal rights that it brings. But it’s also about putting us on the same equal platform as heterosexual married couples, having the basic right to dignity,” Dang said.

“Today, in the eyes of the law, we are like just friends,” he added. “If marriage equality comes to India, we will have that dignity.”

Reporting by Vidhi Doshi.

GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.