India’s Supreme Court has expanded its definition of what constitutes a “family,” ruling that it may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships.
The court decision, which prescribes that such “atypical manifestations” of familial relationships also deserve social welfare benefits, came in the verdict for the case of a nurse named Deepika Singh earlier this month.
Singh had applied for maternity leave after giving birth but was denied by her employer because she had already taken leave before to care for her husband’s children from a previous marriage.
Ruling in her favor, the presiding judges Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and A. S. Bopanna noted that the existing understanding of the concept of a “family” ignores the “many circumstances which may lead to a change in one’s familial structure and the fact that many families do not conform to this expectation to begin with.”
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The judges further explained: “Familial relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships. A household may be a single-parent household for any number of reasons, including the death of a spouse, separation or divorce. Similarly, the guardians and caretakers … of children may change with remarriage, adoption or fostering. These manifestations of love and of families may not be typical but they are as real as their traditional counterparts.”
According to the judges, such “atypical manifestations” of the family are “equally deserving not only of protection under the law but also of the benefits available under social welfare legislation.”
Lawyer Akshay Verma, who defended Singh’s case, said the ruling has greatly “opened the scope” of benefits for parents.
Observers believe the ruling could have a significant impact on the rights of women and the LGBTQ-plus community.
A landmark ruling by India’s highest court in 2018 unanimously eliminated part of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that considerd same-sex relations a criminal act. The decision to decriminalize gay sex was made after advocates contested its legality for 17 years.
Despite the legal victories, however, India continues to refuse acknowledgment of same-sex marriage or civil unions.