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Nepal same-sex marriage a milestone for LGBTQ rights in Asia

Update : 05 Dec 2023, 10:27

In late November, Surendra Pandey and Maya Gurung became the first same-sex couple in Nepal to have their marriage officially recognized, following a years-long process of legal wrangling.

Their legally recognized same-sex marriage is the first of its kind in a South Asian country, and marks a milestone for LGBTQ rights.

"We have achieved legal recognition, a monumental victory not just for us but for the entire LGBTQ community," Pandey told DW, adding he is grateful for the support from local officials and communities.

"We got justice. Now we are complete together," Gurung told DW.

A lengthy legal process

However, the couple's journey was far from easy and was marred by social judgments and family pressure on top of the protracted legal and procedural hurdles.

In 2007, Nepal's Supreme Court had ordered the government to change existing legal provisions to allow same-sex marriages. But successive governments failed to pass required legislation that would mandate lower courts to legally recognize same-sex marriages.

In 2017, Pandey and Gurung were married in a Hindu wedding ceremony. In June 2023, they filed a petition in Kathmandu District Court seeking legal recognition of their marriage after the Supreme Court instructed municipal authorities to provide an "interim registry" for same-sex marriages until existing marriage legislation could be amended. 

The couple had thus expected the registration process to go smoothly. However, both the Kathmandu District Court and another high court refused to register the marriage, claiming that federal law only allowed the registration of heterosexual couples. This is despite the Supreme Court ruling.

Pandey, 27, identifies as cisgender male, and Gurung, 38, is a transgender woman, who in Nepal is legally considered a male.

The lower courts based their rulings on Nepal's civil code, which defines marriage as between a man and woman. The Supreme Court ruling had attempted to get around this by creating the interim registry until the law was changed, but the claimed national law would have to be changed before they recognized Pandey and Gurung's marriage.

However, Nepal's Home Ministry said in the last week of November that all local administration offices are allowed to register same-sex marriages.

On November 29, Pandey and Gurung received their marriage certificate from the Dordi rural municipality in western Nepal's Lamjung district where Gurung is from.

"This registration has opened a lot of things for us, including operating a joint bank account, holding properties and adopting children in the future," Pandey said.

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