Supriyo v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1348



Regarding voluntary unions between gay people, the Supreme Court ruled in Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. vs. Union of India (AIR 2018 SC 4321) that Section 377 was unconstitutional. The Court acknowledged that because Section 377 restricted sexual privacy and discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, it violated Articles 14, 15, and 19 of the Indian  Constitution. Since then, a number of petitions have recognized that the LGBTQ community must be granted the entire spectrum of constitutional rights. This included the freedom to select your own partner as well as the dignity and privacy of one’s sexual relations.

Right after the case, a number of petitioners filed applications seeking the right of LGBTQIA+ couples to marry before the nation’s High Courts. According to the petitions, denying these marriages recognition would be discriminatory and a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. The petitioners contended that the LGBTQIA+ community would be able to exercise their rights to autonomy, dignity, privacy, and freedom of speech and expression if the right to marriage was recognized. In order to achieve social sanctity and receive the explicit and implicit advantages of a legally recognized marriage under the SMA . However,  other petitioners sought equal recognition. Petitioners argued that, in general, the law discriminates against the LGBTQIA+ community through denying them access to a civic institution . 

The recognition of the “right to marry” as a fundamental right that should apply to non-heterosexual couples was the main point of contention in this case. The Court acknowledged the violence and persecution experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community in India by taking suo moto cognizance of the cases. Twenty related petitions, submitted in various High Courts by fifty-two people and seventeen of them were LGBTQIA+ couples were admitted by the court. The Court acknowledged during the case admission that LGBTQIA+ people continued to endure violence and discrimination even after their sexual relationships were decriminalized. A five-judge Constitution bench of the Court heard the matter because of its significance.


  1. Do LGBTQ couples’ fundamental rights to marriage constitute a breach of their right to privacy and dignity when they are denied these rights?


The judgment discussed LGBTQIA+ rights, with broad agreements and disagreements. There was no fundamental right to marry, and non-heterosexual couples’ rights to enter into a union were left to the legislature and executive. The Special Marriage Act cannot be interpreted gender neutrally, and unmarried couples, including queer couples, have the right to marry under existing laws.

However ,  Based on the distinction between the freedom to choose a partner and the right to marry, a five-judge panel of the Court unanimously decided in this case that the right to marriage was not a basic right. The Court affirmed that although the freedom to select a partner constituted a fundamental right, the State alone had the authority to enact legislation permitting gay couples to be married. It did this by drawing on its prior case law. A majority of the bench held that the State was under no legal duty to recognize civil unions of this kind, despite the fact that the entire bench had debated the right of gay couples to form a union.

The idea of marriage and its social and legal ramifications were covered by the court. The Court decided that the petitioners’ argument that marriage confers benefits is based on the State’s acknowledgment of rights rather than the fundamental characteristics of marriage. Accordingly, the Court decided that in order for gay couples to be eligible for the same benefits, the State would need to acknowledge them equally, which could only happen by a parliamentary act. The establishment of these privileges for gay couples would fall outside the purview of the courts.

The Court maintained that an individual’s capacity to exercise their rights to privacy, choice, and autonomy under Articles 15 and 21 of the Constitution was not impeded by the non-recognition of LGBTQIA+ relationships. LGBTQIA+ people’s right to bodily integrity and personal autonomy, which enables them to make decisions regarding their relationships and personal life, was upheld by this court. It acknowledged that being gay is natural, but it also talked about the prejudice that the gay community faces. It emphasized that people’s freedom to choose whether or not to form relationships is unaffected by their sexual orientation. However, the majority ruling did not grant LGBTQIA+ unions the right to privacy, autonomy, and dignity in order to grant them civil union status.

During the process of evaluating the constitutionality of the SMA and FMA, the Court acknowledged that the laws allow transgender and intersex individuals to marry within heterosexual marriages. The Court declared that the right to human dignity, the right to self-determination, the right to life, and the right to personal liberty are just a few of the constitutional principles that are reflected in many aspects of the marriage bond. As a result, everyone has the right to sexual privacy or the freedom from pressure by other people, state institutions like the police, and their own families. The Court upheld everyone’s right to openly express and freely choose their gender identity and sexual orientation without fear of retaliation or other negative consequences. Consequently, the Court recognized transgender and intersex persons and maintained the constitutionality of these regulations.

Ultimately, the Court ruled by a vote of 3 : 2 that the State was not positively obligated to recognize civil unions that were equivalent to marriage based on a combined interpretation of Articles 19, 21, and 25. The majority bench did not require the State to acknowledge LGBTQIA+ unions and democratize private areas; rather, it upheld the freedom to select, cohabit, and experience physical intimacy. In order to reduce discrimination against LGBT people, the minority view contended that the State has a positive obligation to democratize the private realm and to overrule the right to privacy in some circumstances.

Furthermore, the minority opinion stated that Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, which guarantee the right to life and the freedom of speech, inherently include the right to join civil unions. It claimed that the equality enshrined in Articles 14 and 15 required that everyone be granted this right, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Key takeaways : 

The main conclusions drawn from the verdict are as follows: 

  • Marriage is not an unqualified, inherent right; rather, it is subject to statutes and customs
  •  However , Courts cannot mandate or create a legal status for civil unions, which are similar to marriages 
  • While they are entitled to form emotional, mental, or sexual relationships based on their rights to privacy, choice, and autonomy, they are not granted a legal status or entitlement to union of marriage.
  • Under current legislation, homosexual couples do not have the ability to adopt. It is upheld that unmarried people are not permitted to adopt under Central Adoption Resource Authority Regulations (CARA Regulations), specifically Regulation 5(3). However, in situations where single people are permitted to adopt and subsequently enter non-marriage relationships, CARA and the Central Government ought to take the consequences for de facto families into account. 
  • Simultaneously , gay couples’ rights to cohabitation must be upheld by the state, and action must be made to stop gay and transgender people from being treated medically or surgically against their will.
  • The argument against the Special Marriage Act’s recognition of same-sex unions is rejected. 
  •  The Central Government should address and eradicate any indirect discrimination against queer couples regarding their eligibility for welfare benefits or compensatory benefits linked to marital status. 
  • The Central Government should establish a High-Powered Committee (HPC) chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, who will oversee the comprehensive examination of factors related to same-sex marriage while taking into account the opinions of all parties involved, states, and union territories.


1.What is the significance of the Supriyo v. Union of India case?

 The Supriyo v. Union of India case is significant as it addressed the fundamental rights of LGBTQIA+ couples in India, particularly their right to marry and form civil unions.

2.What were the key issues raised in the Supriyo v. Union of India case?

11 The primary issue was whether denying LGBTQIA+ couples the right to marry violated their fundamental rights to privacy, dignity, autonomy, and freedom of expression under the Indian Constitution.

3.What was the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the right to marry for LGBTQIA+ couples?

The Supreme Court ruled that the right to marry is not a fundamental right for LGBTQIA+ couples. It left the decision to grant marriage rights to the legislature and executive.

4.Did the Supreme Court recognize civil unions for LGBTQIA+ couples?

 No, the Supreme Court did not mandate or create a legal status for civil unions similar to marriages for LGBTQIA+ couples.

5.How did the Court view the relationship between LGBTQIA+ rights and existing marriage laws?

The Court affirmed that the Special Marriage Act could not be interpreted gender-neutrally to accommodate same-sex marriages and upheld the current legal framework, which does not recognize same-sex marriages.

6.What rights did the Supreme Court acknowledge for LGBTQIA+ individuals?

 The Court upheld LGBTQIA+ individuals’ rights to privacy, choice, autonomy, bodily integrity, and personal autonomy, allowing them to form emotional, mental, or sexual relationships.

7.Did the ruling affect the adoption rights of LGBTQIA+ couples?

 Yes, the ruling upheld that unmarried individuals, including LGBTQIA+ couples, cannot adopt under the Central Adoption Resource Authority Regulations. However, it suggested that the government consider the implications for de facto families where single individuals adopt and later form non-marriage relationships.

8.What did the Supreme Court say about discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals?

The Court emphasized the need to eliminate indirect discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals in accessing welfare and compensatory benefits linked to marital status.

9.What steps did the Supreme Court suggest for the government regarding LGBTQIA+ rights?

The Court recommended that the Central Government establish a High-Powered Committee (HPC) chaired by the Cabinet Secretary to examine factors related to same-sex marriage and address issues faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals.

10.What was the minority opinion in the case?

 The minority opinion argued that the right to join civil unions is inherent in Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, which guarantee the right to life and freedom of speech, and that equality under Articles 14 and 15 requires that everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, be granted this right.

11.What impact did the ruling have on LGBTQIA+ rights in India?

 While the ruling did not grant marriage rights or legal status to civil unions for LGBTQIA+ couples, it reinforced their rights to privacy, choice, autonomy, and cohabitation, and highlighted the need for the government to address discrimination and recognize their relationships in some form.

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