US monitoring India’s next steps after court declines to legalize same-sex marriage

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States encouraged India to work towards offering equal legal protection to same-sex couples and was “closely monitoring follow-up steps” from the Indian government after the country’s Supreme Court declined to legalize same-sex marriage, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

India’s top court on Tuesday declined to legalize same-sex marriage and left it to parliament to decide, agreeing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that the legislature is the right forum to rule on the issue.

The unanimous order by a five-judge bench came as a huge disappointment to the large LGBTQ community in the world’s most populous country, five years after the court scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex.

“The United States supports marriage equality globally,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said. “We are closely monitoring follow-up steps from the government and reactions from civil society on this issue following the court’s ruling.”

Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration had opposed petitions to the court on the issue, saying same-sex marriage is not “comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children.”

“We will continue to voice our support for marriage equality and protections for LGBTQI+ persons against discrimination and encourage the Indian government to take the necessary steps to offer equal legal protection to same-sex couples,” the State Department spokesperson said.

Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, said on Tuesday the Supreme Court “cannot make law. It can only interpret it and give effect to it.”

Asia, a continent where conservative values still dominate society in many nations, largely lags behind the West in accepting same-sex marriage.

The U.S. State Department said it regularly engages with the Indian government on human rights concerns, including over LGBT rights.

State Department reports have previously raised concerns over treatment of religious minorities, journalists and dissidents in India. New Delhi denies that such discrimination exists.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot)