3 May 2023 6:22 AM GMT
In a significant development in the issue of same-sex marriages, the Solicitor General of India informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the Central Government is agreeable to constituting a committee to examine whether certain legal rights can be granted to same-sex couples, without legal recognition of their relationship as a "marriage".On the last hearing date, the Constitution Bench...
In a significant development in the issue of same-sex marriages, the Solicitor General of India informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the Central Government is agreeable to constituting a committee to examine whether certain legal rights can be granted to same-sex couples, without legal recognition of their relationship as a "marriage".
On the last hearing date, the Constitution Bench had asked SG Tushar Mehta to get instructions from the Government on whether certain rights can be granted to same-sex couples to ensure their social security and welfare. The bench had asked if any executive guidelines could be issued so that same-sex couples can undertake financial security measures such as opening joint bank accounts, nominating partner in life insurance policies, provident fund etc.
Today, as soon as the Constitution Bench commenced the hearing, SG Mehta informed the bench that he has taken instructions regarding the suggestions made by the bench.
"The government is positive. What we have decided is that this would need coordination between more than one ministry. So therefore a committee headed by no less than the cabinet secretary will be constituted", SG said.
The SG said that the lawyers appearing for the petitioners can give their suggestions and convey the problems they are facing and that the Government can address them "so far as legally permissible". "Suppose the government says that nomination in PF is family member or anyone else, then you don't need to go into anything else", SG said.
CJI Chandrachud suggested that the Attorney General for India R Venkatramani, Solicitor General and the lawyers appearing in the matter can have a meeting over the weekend for a discussion. CJI clarified that this exercise will not prejudice the rejoinder arguments to be made by the Union Government in the case.
"From the drift of the submissions made by SG last time, it appears that the SG also accepts that people do have a right to cohabit and that right is an accepted social reality. Based on that, there may be certain incidents of that cohabitation- bank accounts, insurance policies - these are practical issues which can be resolved by the government", CJI observed.
Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singvhi, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the substantial constitutional issues are involved in the matter, and hence mere "administrative tweaking" by the Government may not resolve the issues totally.
"For something as simple as pension, provident fund, gratuity, benefits - that accrues only in a marriage", Senior Advocate Dr.Menaka Guruswamy said.
"They are reluctant to give status of marriage but they're not reluctant to sort out the problems arising from gay companionship without elevating it to marriage", Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said, while adding, "Therefore, what is the suggestion from the bench is that the nitti-gritties of what may be done, some endeavour or step is taken in that direction. So let us accept without pre-notions".
CJI DY Chandrachud clarified that the Court will decide the constitutional issue regarding the right of queer couples to marry, regardless of the concessions which the Union may make.
"Your fundamental point is that there is a right to marry, that it can be sourced in Special Marriage Act. Therefore, of course we'll have to decide it but to the extent which the government takes the first step forward, there will be a substantive benefit", CJI said.
Justice S Ravindra Bhat weighed in by saying that the if the exercise by the Government results in gains for the LGBTQIA+ couples, then "it could be a building block" for claiming further rights.
"Don't see this as the end of the battle. Your movement for equal recognition will always remain. Even if you don't accept this or partly accept this, it won't be the end of what you do", Justice Bhat told the petitioners' lawyers.
"If you get something out of this, it is a big big positive", Justice Bhat added.
The hearing is underway. Live updates can be read here.