India’s Supreme Court says LGBTQ+ families are entitled to legal protection in major ruling

The decision also applies to people in domestic unmarried partnerships, single parents, stepparents and adoptive families

The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex families are entitled to social benefits and legal protections in a decision that could have major implications for the country’s LGBTQ+ community.

A landmark ruling from D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna expanded the legal definition of family to include “non-traditional” families. As a result of the August 28 ruling, “non-traditional” families will be entitled to the same benefits given to “traditional families”—defined as a single, unchanging unit that consists of a mother, a father and their biological children. Per the court’s decision, “non-traditional” families also include queer couples, people in domestic unmarried partnerships, single parents, stepparents and adoptive families. 

The ruling does not specifically address parents who have children by surrogacy or assisted reproductive technologies. 

The decision was handed out in the case of Deepika Singh, a nurse who was denied maternity leave by her employer after she gave birth. She had already taken time off before to care for her husband’s children from a previous marriage, whom she adopted. Akshay Verma, Ms. Singh’s lawyer, told the New York Times that the order greatly “opened the scope” of parental benefits.

India’s recent ruling joins a growing list of reforms dismantling conservative rules that date from the colonial era. In 2014, the Supreme Court recognized trans people as a third gender deserving of equal access to legal protections and social welfare benefits. In 2018, the court decriminalized sexual acts between men, which were previously to be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The latter decision led to several other countries overturning their decades-old sodomy laws, most recently Singapore.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling was hailed as a milestone for women and India’s LGBTQ+ community in a country where family issues—including custody of children—often pit unmarried parents against extended families in lengthy legal battles. 

“We welcome this ruling because it moves from the heterosexual ideas of the family and home that have been the bedrock of patriarchy for so long, especially for poor people,” said Anuradha Banerji, an activist with the women’s rights organization Saheli, in an interview with the New York Times. “This will help people not succumb to marriage because marriage was the only legally understood definition of family. So this is, I think, a very welcome change in the definition of the family.”

It remains unclear what effect the Supreme Court’s ruling will have, especially in more conservative parts of India where many family matters are decided out of court.

After this latest victory, LGBTQ+ activists are advocating to legalize same-sex marriage and to allow same-sex couples to foster and adopt children. This has proven challenging due to the country’s legal framework: Indian marriage is governed by a set of colonial laws that vary among faiths, as well as a secular law called the Special Marriage Act. Both religious and secular law define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. 


The government of India told the New York Times that legalizing same-sex marriage would require an overhaul of India’s legal system.

Currently, LGBTQ+ people enjoy many legal protections in India, as the country continues to evolve in equality. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal in both housing and employment, and Indian states like Tamil Nadu have begun to take action against the discredited, harmful practice of conversion therapy. Although trans identities are recognized, individuals still face many barriers to having their legal gender reflect their lived reality.
According to a 2021 survey from Ipsos, an estimated 17 percent of Indians identify as LGBTQ+. Three percent of the Indian population are gay, nine percent identify as bisexual, one percent are pansexual, two percent identify as asexual and two percent identify with another label.

Diamond Yao is an independent writer and journalist who focuses on contemporary social and environmental issues. Based in Montreal/Tio’tia:ke, her work focuses largely on marginalized voices, intersectionality, diaspora, sustainability and social justice. Her work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Autostraddle, La Converse and the CBC.

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