1 - 7 August 2014 #718

Equality in paper at least

A government committee is ready to submit recommendations on legalising same-sex marriage, but it is a long road
Basil Edward Teo

More than three years since the government formed a committee to make recommendations on legislation for same-sex marriage, the team is finally ready to submit its findings to the Prime Minister’s office in a month.

The committee studied legislation in Nordic countries, its potential impact on Nepali society if legalised, and also interviewed stakeholders, but cannot reveal its final recommendations for the proposed legislation.

“We conducted questionnaires for members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, their parents, law enforcement officers and human rights activists in the past three years,” said committee member Kabiraj Kahnal.

The previous attempt to pass a similar bill on same-sex marriage was thwarted by the dissolution of the legislature-parliament in May 2012. Activists believe the new law could pave the way for amendments to discriminatory codes.

Sujan Panta, a lawyer with the group, Blue Diamond Society explains: “With the laws today, if a gay man dies, his partner will not be entitled to his property which can only be transferred to kin because the government does not recognise same-sex marriage.” Similarly, only sons and daughters are entitled to a family’s inheritance by law, and there is no provision for the third gender.

Same-sex marriage, if legalised, would also mean that homosexual couples might one day be able to adopt children legally. Currently, couples need to prove that they are infertile before they can apply for adoption, making it almost impossible for same-sex couples to adopt. A legal stamp on same-sex marriage, it is believed, would encourage longer-lasting relationships in the LGBT community.

Bishwaraj Adhikari, 24, is in a two-year long relationship, and lives with his partner in an apartment in Kathmandu. He says: “I wouldn’t have to fear holding my partner’s hands in public. Also, recognition from the government will give couples a greater sense of security and belief that there is a future in buying and owning a home together.”

While the landmark 2007 decision to decriminalise homosexuality and 2011 census recognition of third gender status made Nepal more progressive and LGBT-friendly, in practice laws are still inflexible, and some constitutional provisions still archaic.

“In Nepal, you get your citizenship certificate when you are 16. Since 2007, people can opt to choose a third gender. But what about the older ones who missed the window?” Panta asks. Last year, Panta filed a case in the Supreme Court to make citizenship laws more flexible. The case is ongoing. It is not just the LGBT community that has problems with citizenship, single mothers find it difficult to obtain papers for their children because Nepal’s outdated laws require a father’s consent.

Despite laws, local and district administrations still require evidence and documents to prove one’s gender, while the central government only issues citizenship cards of a third gender to new applicants. Bishnu Adhikari (right) waited for years before it was favourable to apply for a certificate.

“When I was 16 back in 2004, I was not satisfied to get a female citizenship. I simply waited in hope that it would be possible for me to choose the third gender one day,” said the transgendered male, who finally got his certificate when he turned 21.

“I am angry that the provision given by the government is not a full package,” says the radio jockey. “Yes, I am proud and happy to identify as a transgendered male, but it also means that I have lost my right to my inheritance, and lost my right to get married.”

Khanal, who is also joint secretary at Ministry of Information and Communications, explains changing the particulars of a citizenship card should not be made too easy.

“It might increase the potential of fraud,” he says. Even if the government agrees to institutionalise same-sex marriage, it will not mean change will be immediate. The government has to start the long process of amending existing codes on marriage, citizenship, property and inheritance.

“It is still ultimately up to Parliament to debate and vote changes into law,” says Khanal. “It will take a long time before same-sex marriage can really become official. It is difficult to tell, and I can’t say when that day will be.”

Read also:

Nothing about us, without us, Sunil Babu Pant

Hidden in plain view, Ayesha Shakya

Out of the closet and proud of it

Between taboo and tolerance

Queering the pitch, Mallika Aryal

A proud woman, Bhumika Shrestha