While the Delhi High Court prepares to hear a series of petitions seeking recognition of same-sex marriages on 3rd December, many affluent gay Indians are flying abroad to get married. The favourite destinations seem to be London and New York, though a number of other countries also offer marriage services to tourists. These marriages are recognised wherever gay marriage has been deemed legal, which includes most countries in Europe and North America, as well as Taiwan in Asia.
Last month, Mumbai-based Neurologist Roop Gursahani married Neil Pate, his partner of 20 years, in a quiet ceremony in London, attended by a few close friends and relatives, such as Roop’s sister and niece, who live in France. “The process is a bit long in the UK since there is a 72-day waiting period after applying for a marriage licence. We had actually started the process in March 2020, but then the pandemic got in the way,” says Neil, 50, who is a journalist with Deccan Chronicle.
Has having a marriage certificate made a difference to their lives? “It has a lot of practical value,” says Roop, 63, who is attached to Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital. “For example, as a doctor I know the important role spouses play in taking critical decisions if their partners are incapacitated. A certificate issued in London will count for something in such an eventuality.”
Indian gay couples marrying abroad is a new trend, though there have been many instances of Indian citizens marrying foreign nationals in the past. Keshav Suri of the Lalit Group of Hotels married Cyril Feuillebois, a French national, in Paris in 2018. The late fashion designer Wendell Rodricks legally married his long-time partner Jerome Marrell in Paris, way back in 2002. Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla married his American boyfriend DeAndre Richardson in Seattle in 2013. These are celebrities, but now, lesser-known couples have been quietly tying the knot too.
Thomas Joseph, a Human Resources manager with HDFC ERGO General Insurance, married investment banker Nitin Karani in Brooklyn, New York, in 2019. The ceremony was attended by ten close relatives, who had flown down from Texas and San Francisco, and the dinner party that followed had 25 friends and relatives. “In the US, you have to register just 24 hours in advance for a marriage licence. The ceremony itself is really short, just 10 minutes, devoid of any frills,” says Thomas.
That may be a let-down to those who envision a Big Fat Indian Wedding for themselves. But gay Indian couples will have to make do with small lean foreign weddings till the Indian courts sort things out. How does it feel being a married gay couple? “It didn’t make a big difference to our relationship, since we had been living together for ten years and we were already married in our own minds. But through this marriage we wanted to express what our relationship is to others,” says Thomas.
Flying abroad to get married is expensive and not all gay couples can afford it. IT engineer Joe Zachariah and journalist Shibu Thomas carefully planned it so they could be married when both were in New York on work assignments. “I was in the US to attend a leadership program and Joe managed to join me there on work. We got married in City Hall, which is famous as the venue where Carrie Bradshaw got married in Sex and The City,” says Shibu.
This was in 2016, and upon their return to Mumbai, the couple threw a big party in Andheri for their friends and relatives. In attendance were well-known LGBT rights activists like Ashok Row Kavi of Humsafar Trust and the party itself was a celebration of LGBT rights, at a time when Article 377 had yet to repealed and gay sex was a crime. Shibu and Joe have since immigrated to Australia, where gay marriages became legal in 2017.
Does the LGBT community expect a favourable judgement from the Delhi High Court in December? Prince Manvendra Gohil believes the right of same-sex couples to get legally married will be affirmed by the courts. “The petitioners have a strong case and the judiciary has been very supportive of our cause since the repeal of Article 377. Once gay marriage is legalised in India, gay couples from all over the world can fly down here to get married, instead of the other way round. It will be a great boost to tourism,” he says.