Social morality can’t dictate dignity, rights

Across the globe, the journey from decriminalisation of homosexuality to formal recognition of same-sex marriages has been arduous and spanned decades. In India, in contrast, the transition has been swift. In 2018, the Supreme Court freed homosexuality from the fetters of criminality. By 2021, same-sex couples had approached high courts, arguing that denying their union State sanction was a violation of their constitutional rights. The top court has now taken up petitions by two same-sex couples and asked the government for a response. On Monday, the issue found its way into Parliament when Bharatiya Janata Party member Sushil Modi spoke out against it. Voicing his opposition to same-sex marriages, Mr Modi said legalising such relationships will upend the “delicate balance” of personal laws. More significantly, the member said “two judges” shouldn’t decide on the matter, and called for a debate in Parliament.

Mr Modi’s arguments are standard conservative talking points. But as courts and legislatures across the world have rightly observed, such a stand cannot violate an individual’s rights to a life of dignity. It’s true that legalising same-sex marriages will cause a ripple in society, and therefore vigorous and informed debates are necessary. But it’s also true that no progressive legislation will have the sanction of the majority, which, by its nature, is wary of change. The civil rights proclamation or granting the women the right to vote in the West, and modernising marriage and inheritance laws, or striking down statutes that discriminate against women are united by the fact that they all went against the grain of prevailing social morality, which cannot be allowed to wield a veto on individual dignity.

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