India’s first legally recognized lesbian married couple live under threat of death

Posted on 29 Jul 2011 at 11:40am

Today while looking through news headlines online, I noticed “India’s First Married Lesbian Couple Under Constant Police Protection” from the Oregon-based LGBT website Just Out. And further down the list of headlines was this one: “In a first, Gurgaon court recognizes lesbian marriage,” taken from The Times of India.

Beena, left, and Savita have had to ask for police protection against Savita’s angry family members who have threatened to kill the two over their marriage

I read both stories, trying to piece together as much information as possible about this historic couple, and about the apparently constant state of danger in which they live. Then I went out and started looking for other news reports about the couple, since the two referenced above seemed to contradict each other in a couple of places. The Hindustan Times in Indian offered this report. The headline here reads “Same-sex couple fears for life.”

There are a few things I am not quite sure on yet — for instance, the Times of India story talks about “khap panchayats,” and I don’t know what those are. But since these “khap panchayats” have been linked to so-called “honor killings,” I am pretty sure they aren’t good.

But here is the story as I understand it, based on what I have read so far:

Beena, 20, and Savita, 25, have been friends for many years, maybe as long as 15 years. Beena (spelled”Veena” in one report) has always been very boyish, and has always been accepted by her family who treat her as a boy. Savita, who is studying for a college degree, was forced by her family to marry a man late last year. Within five months, she ran away from her husband, got a divorce from a khap panchayat and went to live with Beena.

On July 22, according to Times of India, the two women went to a public notary in Gurgaon and got married by signing an affidavit that said, basically, they were marrying each other and were not being coerced into doing so. Then they ended up going to court to ask for police protection because certain people — namely members of Savita’s own family — were threatening to kill them because through their relationship they had besmirched the honor of Savita’s family.

In court proceedings, as best I can tell, the judge basically gave their marriage legal recognition simply by not disputing their declarations that they were married.

That’s an over-simplification of the things I read, and may not be exactly accurate, but I think that’s the basic gist of it. And by the way, two other points to mention, the high court in Delhi decriminalized same-sex relationships back in 2009, and Beena’s family members have said they accept the two women’s relationship.

There are two things about this story that really stand out in my mind. First, these two women appear to have been able to be legally married simply by filling out a form and then declaring themselves married. I wish it were that simple here in Texas (or anywhere in the U.S.).

Second, even though Beena and Savita appear to have managed a legal same-sex marriage, they had to put their lives on the line to do so. Trust me, the threat to these two women’s lives is very real. This report by National Geographic in 2002 says that “Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of ‘honor.’” A study published in 2008 by Gendercide.org says that such murders, while more common in Islamic countries, are on the rise worldwide.

And according to this Wikipedia article, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered in honor killings each year. Need more evidence? Then read this story about three young women, two sisters and a woman who had eloped with her boyfriend, who were murdered in two separate honor killing incidents within 24 hours of each other earlier this month in India.

Even though honor killings, at least in most places, are illegal, those commit such crimes often get away with it because authorities look the other way, so to speak. (In some countries, though, such killings are not just allowed, but required by law.)

Reading all this made me think about how easy we have it here in the U.S., in so many ways. I mean, sure, there are a lot of anti-LGBT folks out there who want to deny us our civil rights, and who, in many cases, get their way. And yes, the Republican Party Platform in Texas calls for recriminalizing same-sex sexual contact. And yes, I am sure that if some people had their way, “honor killings” of LGBT people would be the law of the land.

But the fact is, those people don’t get their way — at least not to that extent. And there are six states in the United States, plus the District of Columbia, that legally recognize same-sex marriage. More than one federal court has already declared that the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional, and a bill has been introduced in Congress to repeal it.

Yes, lots of people have had to fight long and hard for us to reach the place we are now, and we have a long, hard fight still ahead to finally gain full equality. But from now on, when I started getting aggravated about the seemingly slow pace of our progress, when I start feeling discouraged because the government does not recognize my marriage — well, I will just rememberto stop and think about Beena and Savita. Sure, there are people who don’t like the idea of my wife and I being married. But at least our family members aren’t hiding out there somewhere, lying in wait to murder us over it.

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