A little over 24 hours ago, President Barack Obama did what a lot of people in America considered unthinkable: He declared his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage — a bold political gamble on an issue that continues to divide his country’s voters — just months before an election. The President’s statement arrived days after Vice President Joseph Biden also declared support for marriage equality.
Putting aside who said what for political or other reasons, it’s interesting to note how far countries like India are from granting rights like these. There has admittedly been a shift in attitudes towards the subject in recent years, but the fact remains that homosexuality continues to be taboo; homophobia, prevalent.
Thankfully, there have been positive developments in recent years. In 2008, activists fighting for decriminalisation of consensual homosexuality at Delhi High Court were told that there was nothing unusual in holding a gay rally. A year later, the court struck down the provision of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalised consensual sexual acts of homosexual adults in private. It held that the Section violated the fundamental right of life and liberty and the right to equality as guaranteed in the Constitution.
While the law takes its own course, there is much to be done to sensitise people to the needs of the LGBT community. A series of news reports published not long ago mentioned lesbian suicides in some parts of the country being written off as ordinary deaths, while some cities had women living as outcastes, shunned even by their families. In some parts of rural India, apparently, the act of coming out meant facing brutality and in some cases even death.
Obama’s statement is a step in the right direction. To take a stand on a contentious issue always opens it up to debate.