In India, the fundamental right to marry a person of one’s choice still remains a dream. While the Supreme Court’s verdict abolishing section 377 marked a historic victory for the LGBTQ community, there is a still a long way to go as far the community’s right to marriage is concerned. However, in what is definitely a monumental stepping stone in realizing this dream, the Madras High Court has declared marriage between a man and a transwoman as valid.
On October 31st, Arun Kumar and Sreeja got married in a temple in Tamil Nadu, like the Hindu wedding tradition dictates. However, when they went to get their marriage registered, they were denied a certificate – because Sreeja, the bride, was a transwoman. Claiming that only a “woman” on her wedding day can be called a “bride” under the section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, the registrar refused to recognize Arun and Sreeja’s marriage as legal. But the couple held their ground and moved to court to appeal this contention – little did they know; they were creating history. On 22nd April, in a landmark verdict, the Madras High Court held that the term ‘bride’ as per the Hindu marriage act would also mean a transsexual and not just refer to someone born as a woman. Quoting from the Supreme Court Ruling and the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Justice G.R. Swaminathan said that the expression ‘bride’ in the Hindu Marriage Act could not have a static or immutable meaning. The term includes not only a woman but also a transwoman. In no unclear terms, the judge directed the authorities to register the marriage between Arun and Sreeja.
As the Judge pointed out, the court wasn’t breaking any new ground in ruling this verdict – it was merely stating the obvious. In the court order, Justice Swaminathan writes, “Sometimes to see the obvious, one needs not only physical vision in the eye, but also love in the heart.”
The Transgender Persons Bill was passed in the court in 2018, granting the transsexual citizens of the country a right to self-identify their gender. It also ruled against any discriminatory behaviour. Yet, even in 2019, the community is at the sharp end of brutal societal discrimination. The members of the transgender community are often disowned by their own families and end up having to fend for themselves in a society that has little value for their dignity. In this environment, something as simple as granting a transwoman the right to be called a bride is a milestone in her journey of accepting her own identity. We can only hope that this verdict in the first step is India’s journey of accepting the transgender community – and granting them the freedom to love without bounds.