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A Trans Woman Can Now Be Recognised as a ‘Bride’ Under the Hindu Marriage Act

In a major move for the Indian transgender community, the Madras High Court ordered authorities to register a marriage between a man and a trans woman.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
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A Trans Queen India beauty paegant contestant dressed in bridal attire. Photo: Apurva Sinnarkar 

The Madras High Court on Monday held that the term ‘bride’ in the Hindu Marriage Act, which codifies the laws related to marriage in the Hindu community in India, can also refer to a trans woman and does not need to be restricted to someone born a woman.

This move comes after marriage registration authorities in Tamil Nadu in south India refused to register the marriage of Arun Kumar and Sreeja, a man and a trans woman who approached the authorities for formal recognition after tying the knot in a temple ceremony. Justice G R Swaminathan, one of the judges on the bench, stated that authorities—which had refused to recognise the marriage on the grounds that a trans woman can’t be treated as a bride as per Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1956—were wrong in doing so.

He referred to past judgments of the Supreme Court in NALSA, Puttuswamy (privacy case) and the Section 377 repeal, and even quoted Hindu epics like the Mahabharata, declaring that the 'personhood' of transgender persons has been recognised under the Indian Constitution. "Gender identity falls within the domain of her personal autonomy and involves her right to privacy and dignity. It is not for the State authorities to question this self-determination of the second petitioner herein," he went on to say. “For too long, the transgender persons have been languishing in the margins. The Constitution of India is an enabling document. It is inviting them to join the mainstream. It is absurd to deny the transgenders the benefit of the social institutions already in place in the mainstream.”

While this isn’t the first time a transgender marriage has been registered in India, this judgement basically means that the Madras HC has set a precedent that will now make it easier for transgender persons to get married without being discriminated against, or at least enable them to build a strong case against anyone who refuses to let them register for marriage. “This Court is not breaking any new ground. It is merely stating the obvious. Sometimes to see the obvious, one needs not only physical vision in the eye but also love in the heart,” the court said rather eloquently and melting our heart in the process. The transgender community has been fighting for their basic human rights for a while and this kind of backing may also help make such marriages more socially acceptable in the long run.

The court also asked the Tamil Nadu government to issue an order against sex-reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children, saying that children must be given time and space to discover their true gender identity and that parental consent differed from that of the child.

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