New Delhi: After being together for over eight years, Kavita Arora and Ankita Khanna wanted legal recognition of their “committed relationship”, just like any other couple would. But for them it meant thinking through various dimensions of where they live, their finances, interactions with friends and families, and their professional lives.
The two pinned their hopes on the judiciary as they felt assured about their relationship after the Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a colonial-era law that allowed police to prosecute LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) members as criminals.
Arora and Khanna moved the Delhi High Court last week with a plea to allow registration of marriages of same-sex couples under the Special Marriage Act and Foreign Marriage Act.
A two-judge bench led by Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw issued notice to the Centre, advising it to shed its age-old inhibitions when a government counsel said that such a situation has not arisen in the 5,000 years of Sanatan Dharma.
In an interview to ThePrint, the couple says it was important to have a legitimate structure and name to their relationship vis-à-vis the legal as well as the social sanction.
Arora is a psychiatrist and Khanna is a psychologist and arts-based therapist. Both are part of a child & adolescent mental health service in Delhi-NCR.
“Marriage is not just a relationship between two individuals — it brings two families together. But it is also a bundle of rights. We wish to have the protection of the bundle of rights that a marriage provides, so that we are not trying to get authorities to acknowledge our relationship for every entitlement or right that married couples would get automatically,” says Arora.
Through marriage, the two want to affirm their commitment to each other before society. Besides, the institution of marriage is also a legal and social recognition of the love, support, security and emotional bond the two have for each other, they say.
‘Pandemic amplified how we still remain strangers in law’
Khanna recollects how desperately the couple wanted to have a “legitimate structure” and “name” to their relationship whenever they tried opening a joint bank account or thought of availing a bank loan to buy a house together.
“Once we decided that we wanted to live our lives together, we slowly started doing various things to build a secure and happy home as well. We realised over time how important it was to have a social sanction for our relationship. Being a couple, we also wanted to create economic stability for each other, but realised the existing legal framework does not allow to do so,” says Khanna.
For them, even getting proof of residence for Khanna has been a struggle.
Whenever the two would try to bring each other on as nominees in insurance and financial planning instruments, the lack of legal structure would require them to approach the relevant authorities repeatedly to find out what was possible, or else be met with confusion and rejection.
“In parallel, we both realised that we feel the absence of the ease of being a couple in the larger social fabric. We have often had to reassert and explain who we are and what we mean to each other every time we meet a new authority, have to access a new service, or a legal right or, just have to introduce each other at a social gathering,” explains Arora.
The pandemic has further amplified how, in the social, financial and medical endeavours, the two still are strangers in law, the couple says.
‘Attempt to assert our civil rights’
Arora says, “The urgency (to move court) was also accompanied by a sense of hope and faith that there must be a way to solve the predicament we faced whenever we wanted to assert our civil rights as a couple. When we met with our lawyers, we were infused with renewed faith in the spirit of our Constitution and the legal process. And here we are.”
The 2018 Supreme Court judgment did give Arora and Khanna a lease of life, making them feel “lighter”. But it failed to address the LGTBQ community’s worries in relation to their civil rights, such as the right to acquire property and marry a person of his or her choice.
“Our ‘coming out’ process happened in small stages — our closest circle of family, friends and colleagues were the first to know and expressed unconditional support. Over the years we have been ‘coming out’ to others in our extended circle, sometimes tentatively, sometimes to confusion in the persons who received us, and also sometimes to wholehearted support,” says Arora.
While in their hearts and daily lives, they never identified their lives together as a “criminal” act, they did not know how much and to whom they could reveal their relationship. “The 2018 judgment made us feel lighter. We have felt more confident,” Arora says.
But the verdict did not protect the bundle of rights that a marriage provides. “This institution of marriage is a legal and social recognition. Through marriage, we would like to affirm our commitment to each other before society,” Khanna says when asked why the two want to tie the nuptial knot.
Both believe that legalising same-sex marriage is one of the pivotal next steps towards ensuring and taking forward the constitutional rights of the LGBTQIA community.
“As professionals, we also feel that the legal acceptance and recognition of LGBTQIA+ relationships is sure to impact the mental health and well-being of the young people we meet in our professional lives, in a very positive way,” Arora adds, underlining the importance of being accepted as “fully human”.