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    Ringing in Equality This Holiday Season

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    “We are sad. We are angry. We are grateful. We are hopeful.”

    These were the words of Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, one of the plaintiff couples in the Indian marriage equality litigation, when they learned the news last October that a 5-judge panel of the Indian Supreme Court had issued an internally inconsistent and disappointing ruling in their landmark lawsuit. The court declared that all Indians, including LGBTIQ Indians, have the right to choose their life partner, a choice that lies at the very “root of the right to life and liberty” guaranteed by the Indian constitution; yet that same constitution does not require the government to permit same-sex couples to marry.

    Parag Mehta and Vaibhav Jain

    Jain and Mehta’s words resonate with us more broadly as we reflect on LGBTIQ rights around the world and particularly in Asia at the cusp between 2023 and 2024. Jain and Mehta explained how these emotions were not “contradictory,” but rather “the necessary ingredients for big, sweeping social change.” After “mourn[ing] … we go back to organizing,” the couple elaborated because as a community “we keep going” for India, “and the larger cause of humanity.”

    Jain and Mehta, other couples in the lawsuit, and their fellow Indian LGBTIQ activists wasted no time getting back to work. They petitioned the Indian Supreme Court to review its decision, and in late November that process at the court began.

    Meanwhile, a thousand kilometers to the east, Surendra Pandey and Maya Gurung made history on November 29 when they became the first LGBTIQ couple to be married legally in Nepal, marking a major breakthrough in the years-long struggle for the Himalayan nation to establish marriage equality as a reality for all Nepalese LGBTIQ couples.

    And thousands of kilometers further southeast, the Thai cabinet led by newly elected Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin approved draft marriage equality legislation in November that will be introduced in the Thai Parliament this month. After a similar bill stalled in Parliament last year, hopes are high that the legislation will pass this time around. In the 2023 Thai national election campaign, the progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most seats in the election, and Srettha’s Pheu Thai Party, which now leads the ruling coalition, both explicitly campaigned on their support for marriage equality. Together, these two parties hold a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

    Parag Mehta and Vaibhav Jain
    holding their son

    Winning marriage equality in Thailand would greatly energize the movements in neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as in Japan and South Korea. As we have written extensively before, Japanese marriage equality lawsuits are progressing through the courts with a Japanese Supreme Court decision expected in the next couple of years. This fall, we had the honor of meeting the leaders of the newly launched Marriage for All Korea campaign. Historic marriage equality legislation was introduced in the South Korean national legislature last May.

    A victory in Thailand would create unprecedented momentum in these countries and put pressure on reluctant governments to act. And needless to say, we cannot imagine a more popular venue than Thailand for queer destination weddings!

    As we report on this progress in the struggle for equality in these Asian countries, we are mindful that our community faces much greater challenges in some other countries in Asia and around the world. Indeed, we must contend with the unfortunate truth that lasting progress nearly always takes time.

    Jain and Mehta’s words last October also recall for us the lyrics that Holly Near composed and led our community in singing 45 years ago at a candlelight vigil in front of San Francisco City Hall on the evening of November 27, 1978, the day that Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. Together, their words link our community across time and space.

    “We are gay and lesbian people” and “gentle, angry people” who are “singing for our lives,” declared Near as we sang in grief, frustration, and determination nearly a half-century ago. Today, Jain and Mehta lead our community in expressing our sadness, anger, gratitude, and hope in 2023. And to those words we add the word “joy”—profound happiness at our good fortune to be alive and queer and part of a vibrant global LGBTIQ community this holiday season as we ring out the old and work to ring in equality in 2024. We wish you the joy of equality this holiday season, in 2024, and beyond.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    6/26 and Beyond
    Published on December 21, 2023