Supriyo v. Union of India

Supriyo v. Union of India

Supriyo v. Union of India

DATE OF JUDGEMENT: October 17, 2023

PETITIONER: Supriyo a.k.a. Supriya Chakraborty, Abhay Dang, Parth Phiroze Mehrotra, Uday Raj Anand

RESPONDENT: Union of India

BENCH: CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice S.K. Kaul, Justice S.R. Bhat, Justice Hima Kohli, Justice P.S. Narasimha

CITATIONS: W.P. (C) No. 1011/2022 Diary No. 36593/2022

Facts of the case

The Supreme Court received a plea from the respondents, Supriya Chakraborty and Abhay Dang, on November 14, 2022, asking for their marriage to be recognized legally. In addition to the plea by Parth Phiroze Mehrotra and Uday Raj Anand, another LGBT couple, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli’s two-judge bench accepted theirs. Nine petitions that are similar to the original ones were instructed to be transferred to the Supreme Court for decision-making by the bench of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice P.S. Narasimha, and Justice J.B. Pardiwala from the higher courts.1
Many petitions contested the constitutionality of the secular marriage laws because the majority of petitioners also contended that the regulations interfered unnecessarily in marriages. The petitioners also claimed that this legislation violated several fundamental human rights, including the rights to equality and expression. Two landmark judgments were cited by the petitioners to support their case, NALSA V. Union of India2 and Navtej Singh Johar V. Union of India3. The case was referred to a constitutional bench of five justices on March 13, 2023, by a three-judge bench chaired by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The final verdict was pronounced on 17th October 2023.
Issues Raised

  1. Is the right to marry a fundamental right?
  2. Do the Special Marriage Act (SMA) and Foreign Marriage Act (FMA), two secular marriage regulations, violate the LGBTQIA+ community’s fundamental rights?
  3. Does the Supreme Court have the authority to rule that members of the LGBTQIA+ community may marry?
    Contention of the Petitioner
    • The petitioners contend that only marriages between “male” and “female” are recognized under Section 4(c) of the Act. This deprives same-sex couples of work opportunities, retirement benefits, surrogacy, adoption, and other marriage benefits, thereby discriminating against them. The petitioners asked the court to declare Section 4 (c) of the Act unconstitutional.
    • Numerous other petitions against other personal laws on the same grounds have been tagged with the plea. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 and the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969 are two of the laws that are being contested.4
    • The Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court of India to safeguard fundamental rights under Article 32, the same was invoked by the petitioners while approaching the court. The petitioners contend that equality, freedom of speech, and dignity are violated when same-sex marriages are not recognised. Furthermore, the petitioners brought up the point that there are now no explicit provisions in the marriage laws that address same-sex unions.
    • The petitioners cited the historic rulings rendered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in NALSA v. Union of India, Puttaswamy v. Union of India, and Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, which acknowledged and upheld the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
    • The petitioners highlighted the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down any legislation that did not safeguard a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation, as doing so would violate Article 14. Atypical families’ non-recognition is a violation of several other fundamental rights, including Article 14.

Contention of Respondents
• The argument put out by the respondents was that the Acts mentioned by the petitioners are not unconstitutional simply because they do not fully include marriages between non-heterosexual couples. The petitioners cite several Acts that regulate heterosexual marriages; the court cannot interpret these Acts in a way that broadens its interpretation of their original meaning.
• The Legislature is in charge of enacting all laws on unions, divorces, adoptions, and other matters. Any other current laws about marriage that regulate same-sex unions would be violated.
• The right to marry is not explicitly recognized as a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution. Only Article 21’s right to select a spouse is acknowledged. It is not implied that there is a right to marriage by the freedom of choosing someone to marry. Legalizing marriage for non-heterosexual couples would go against religious beliefs that view marriage as a holy union between two heterosexual people.
• Homosexuality is deemed contrary to Indian ideals and cultural norms so the government emphasized that marriage, as an institution, serves the social purpose of procreation, which wouldn’t be possible in same-sex marriages.
Under Article 32, the Supreme Court has the authority to hear this matter and to grant writs, directives, or instructions to enforce the rights outlined in Part III of the Constitution. The decision was made in a 3:2 majority, where the majority of three judges refused to legally recognize same-sex marriages.
The Parliament and State legislatures have the authority to create rules and laws about a variety of topics, including adoption, divorce, and marriage, as stated in Articles 245 and 246 of the Constitution. The trials of Puttaswamy, Shafin Jahan, and Shakti Vahini did not address the question of whether the Constitution recognizes the right to marry. The freedom to marry is not specifically recognized by the Constitution. Matrimony is an institution; it cannot be made into a fundamental right. Since these are subjects under the purview of the Legislature and interpreting the terms of the Special Marriage Act, Foreign Marriage Act, and other legislation within this context would be judicial overreach, the court is unable to do so.
According to the court’s judgements in Navtej Singh Johar and Puttaswamy, legislation that restricts the ability of the LGBT community to form unions would violate Article 15 of the Constitution. The queer community, which is currently prohibited from marrying, would suffer greatly if the state failed to acknowledge the advantages of a union.
The court further ordered the Union Government to establish a committee to define and construe the range of benefits accessible to gay couples in partnerships, to be chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. Along with members of the LGBT community, the Committee will also include professionals who understand the social, emotional, and psychological needs of individuals in the community. Before making a final decision, the Committee must conduct a thorough consultation with members of the LGBTQIA+ community and the governments of the States and Union Territories. The administrative implementation of the Committee’s findings will be handled by the Union Government in coordination with the State and Union Territory governments.
CJI D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli’s minority decision expressed opposing views. They both believed that the freedom to marry ought to be considered an inalienable right. They also contended that non-heterosexual couples should be able to enjoy the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts, denying them similar rights would be a violation of their fundamentals rights.
Over the past ten years, there has been a notable increase in public understanding of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ population. Their rights have been recognised by the Supreme Court in a number of historic rulings. To guarantee that members of the queer community have the same rights as heterosexual people, there is still a long way to go.
What lies ahead for India’s LGBT community will be largely determined by the Committee that the Supreme Court appointed.
Author: Sharanya Agarwal, a student of Amity University, Lucknow.

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