In India, a young gay man finds himself at the centre of a debate after his mother puts up a matrimonial ad for him. In faraway Ireland, gay marriage has become legalized by popular vote. And in Australia the debate whether to legalize gay marriage has gotten hotter. (By Team TIW & Agencies)
When Mumbai-based Harish Iyer’s mother Padma placed a matrimonial advertisement in a Mumbai tabloid for her gay son, she never thought it would generate a debate across and outside the country.
Dubbed the first gay matrimonial ad in India, Padma was able to get it published only after being rejected by a few leading dailies. Iyer, a well-known gay activist, was shocked when the ad was turned down by some mainstream newspapers, which he felt always covered LGBT (Laws affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues extensively and stood with them on many an occasion.
The ad reads: “Seeking 25-40, well-placed, animal-loving, vegetarian groom for my son 36, 5 11′ who works with an NGO caste no bar (though Iyer preferred).”
Iyer said, “The decision to place the ad came after a series of discussions between my mother and grandmother since they want me to settle down. I did not want a separate matrimonial section for the gay community. It came as a shock when newspapers I approached turned down the advertisement. It is shameful to see the Fourth Estate, which professes equality and human rights, behaves this way.”
A few newspapers also told Iyer that they would publish the ad if he changed “groom” to “life partner”, which he refused to do.
Though one media house clarified why the ad was rejected on legal grounds, activists felt this only confirms that homophobia is deep-rooted in society.
“Newspapers carry ads of massage parlors and many things which they aren’t supposed to. This is a result of the prevailing homophobia,” Delhi-based queer rights’ activist Pramada Menon said.
The gay community is worried that the Supreme Court’s December 2013 verdict, retracting a Delhi High Court verdict of July 2009 decriminalising homosexuality, has worsened the situation. The high court verdict had come as a huge relief for the gay community as it received support from civil society. It also helped many to come out of the closet.
Hinting that there was a lot of ambiguity to be cleared, Praful Baweja, who runs a marketing firm Conneqt and is also closely associated with the gay rights movement, said: “The 2009 verdict led to brilliant conversations in the society and it helped many to come out of the closet. However, after the 2013 verdict, there is a visible change in attitude. People tend to misinterpret the verdict, but it neither makes gay marriage legal or illegal.”
Sonal Giani of NGO Humsafar said that after the Supreme Court verdict, there has been a spike in violence against the queer community in rural areas and even in metros like Mumbai.
If the ad itself generated debate, the preference for an ‘Iyer groom’ led to a more complex caste debate. Iyers are an upper-caste community of Tamil Brahmins. Iyer earned more brickbats than bouquets for the ‘Iyer’ preference in the ad. However, Iyer and his mother have a different take.
“The preference for an Iyer was added in jest. People should see the humour in it rather than pouncing on us. I am a humorous person and moreover my mother has clarified this on Facebook,” said Iyer. Even in the face of criticisms, Iyer is not apologetic about the caste bit.
“My mom is inundated with hate mails from both homophobic and caste haters, but she has laughed it off. Every human being is discriminative by nature. So why can’t my mom be biased? Moreover, my grandmother needed an Iyer groom. What is wrong in that? We are not saints,” Iyer maintained.
However, the house is divided on the caste issue. While some hailed the support lent by Padma as brave and progressive, others felt that it’s time the community raised pertinent issues like caste and class.
Taking the debate further, Rituparna Borah, a feminist queer activist, argued that casteism poses a big challenge for the gay movement.
“Caste preference defeats the purpose of the ad, which is a progressive step from the mother of a gay son. Patriarchy works in such a way that one has to challenge it. Iyer is a known figure and people look up to him. Hope he is not setting a bad precedent,” said Borah.
Menon backed this view. “It is easy to say that his mother wanted it. Coming from a progressive family, Harish could have challenged the caste part,” Menon maintained.
However, Pallav Patankar, a gay activist, believed that the caste issue has been blown out of proportion. Extending support to “Padma aunty”, as she is fondly referred to, Patankar said: “She wasn’t trying to project herself as an intellectual; she acted like any other mom.”
In no mood to settle down now, Patankar said that his parents, especially his mother, are his best support.
Throwing his weight behind Padma, Aditya Shankar, an IIT-Bombay student and a gay activist, said that these were smaller battles towards an equal society.
“Gay marriages will go a long way in legitimising gay rights. Padma auntie’s effort to tinker with the mindsets and society should be appreciated,” Shankar said.
The tones may differ, but they agree on the fact that the ad has shaken conventional mindsets and taken the debate into living rooms.
Although Iyer is flooded with marriage proposals, he is sure about one thing: he is not going to marry an Iyer guy because he hates ‘vibhuti’.
Sachin Kalbag, the editor of MID-DAY, which published the ad, said in a statement to BuzzFeed, “A marriage is a meeting of minds, of souls. At MID-DAY, we believe that human rights should be applicable to all, regardless of religion, caste, colour, sexual orientation, etc. Therefore, a mother seeking a union for her gay son is perfectly normal. Why should it be any different? In fact, why should we even be talking about it? In an equal society, which we all strive for, this should be routine.”
India’s Supreme Court by its Dec 12, 2013 order and subsequently in the January 28 review petition upheld the validity of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, finding no constitutional infirmity in the penal provision that criminalised homosexuality. It set aside the Delhi High Court verdict of July 2, 2009, which had read down section 377, thus decriminalising consensual sex between adults of the same gender.
Today, LGBT politics have come a long way in India. Gays and lesbians still live in fear of prosecution. Being gay in India is slowly but surely becoming socially tolerable in certain pockets of mainstream society. And there is a subtle shift. But gay marriages are not legally recognized in India.
IRELAND’S SOCIAL REVOLUTION
On May 22, Ireland, the country that only decriminalised homosexuality a little over 20 ago, became the first country in the world to vote for equal marriage. “Today Ireland made history. The first country in the world to vote for equal marriage. I welcome that and thank all those who voted,” declared Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
The Irish prime minister said the referendum on May 22 (where the Constitution should be changed so as to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples) was “about inclusiveness and equality, about love and commitment being enshrined in the constitution.”
He said the decision makes every citizen equal and will strengthen the institution of marriage for all existing and future marriages.
“All people now have an equal future to look forward to,” Kenny said.
With all votes from the country’s 43 constituencies counted, Ireland on May 23 approved same-sex marriage with 1.2 million people voting in its favour.
At Dublin Castle, Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile declared that a total of 1,201,607 people (62.1 percent) voted in favor with 734,300 (37.9 percent) against, giving a majority of 467,307. The total valid poll was 1,935,907.
“This is a truly historic moment: Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a nationwide referendum,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said after he accepted the Tipperary International Peace Award in Ballykisteen, south Ireland’s County Tipperary.
“The result sends an important message to the world: All people are entitled to enjoy their human rights no matter who they are or whom they love,” he said.
DEBATE GAINS MOMENTUM IN AUSTRALIA
On the home ground, the same-sex marriage debate gained momentum after Ireland’s hugely successful referendum.
However Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed the idea of a referendum on same-sex marriage in the country.
“Questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament,” reported ABC citing the prime minister.
“Referendums are held in this country where there’s a proposal to change the constitution,” he said, adding: “I don’t think anyone is suggesting the constitution needs to be changed in this respect.”
Australian Capital Territory Liberal senator Zed Seselja said he did not support gay marriage, but there was a reasonable case for a referendum in the country.
“A vote by parliament is all that is needed and Tony Abbott should allow his party a (conscience) vote on the subject. Cupid doesn’t discriminate and neither should the law,” Seselja added.
However, on June 1 Opposition leader Bill Shorten introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the Federal Parliament.
The Australian Labour Party leader’s private members bill proposes replacing the words “man and woman” with the term “two people” to define who can be legally married, ABC reported.
Abbott has emphasised that any moves to legalise gay marriage must be owned by the Parliament, and not just by a single party. Shorten has called on Abbott to grant his MPs a free vote on the issue.
“When someone has found not just another person they can live with, but a person they can’t live without, then they should have the same right to the true qualities of a bond that runs deeper than any law,” he said.
“And we say to all young gay people, we are proud of you for who you are…”
Let us hope that governments do not stand in the way of personal freedoms. A person’s sexual orientation should be a matter of no concern to the state, which should only step in where sex – whether heterosexual or homosexual – is non-consensual and coercive. It is time for change.