The real story in the matrimonial ad placed by the mother of Harish Iyer, a prominent gay rights activist, seeking a groom for her son, is not that it was finally published but that it was rejected by a number of newspapers before Mid-Day chose to go along with it. Hindustan Times, DNA and Times of India each had either refused to run this ad or not given any reasons for going silent over it.
In an email to Buzzfeed, Mid-Day editor Sachin Kalbag explained his reasons for running the ad. “Marriage is all about love, compassion, and companionship. If Harish Iyer, through this ad, is able to find an ideal partner who would be able to give him all of this, that would be one heck of a union,” he said.
Of course, if Harish were to find a partner through the ad, it would be a marriage only in name. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code continues to criminalise homosexuality, so we are looking at a long road ahead before the kind of marriage Harish envisages and Mid-Day has chosen to help along can become a reality.
The idea of gay marriage is a political and social hot potato not just in India and but all over the world. The US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case last month that could make gay marriage a reality all over the United States, unlike now, where only a few states bless it. Ireland is holding a referendum on May 22 asking its citizens to vote on gay marriage.
For gay people marriage would seem like the perfect embodiment of their hopes and struggles for a partnership that has long been denied to them by society. As politics over the issues has crystallised, a number of politicians in the West have been forced to change their stance on the issue. Both US President Barrack Obama and presumptive President (possibly) Hillary Clinton have shown remarkable evolution in their support for gay marriage. Hillary’s campaign ad announcing her candidature for the 2016 presidency showcased gay and lesbian couples. Last week, Luxembourg’s prime minister married his same sex partner.
So yes, the world is moving forward on the gay marriage front. But to think that there is one dominant opinion on the issue even within the gay community would be incorrect. As Dolce & Gabbana spoke to their peril earlier this year, there is a population within the gay community that thinks marriage should be only between man and woman since this union, as an institution, is about children. As per this argument, children born through surrogacy and IVF are “designer babies” and it is wrong for man to take on the role of God.
Of course, D&G were booed, both online and off, for their comments, but the fact that a gay couple had made these comments meant that there was a constituency for such views. And of course, they received enthusiastic support from the conservative lobby looking to retain the original definition of marriage.
The other argument against gay marriage looks upon marriage as a straight construct that is suitable for straight society but would not meet the particular needs of gay men. In the more virulent versions of this argument, marriage is looked upon as one of the many institutions of society that is meant to propagate the subjugation of any population that is not part of it. One option available to gay men is to create communities of gay people where they live and care for one another without falling into the “trap” of two-person relationships. As with all utopian ideals, this sounds great on paper but has never come to fruition.
There is some truth to the argument that marriage would domesticate gay people and take the edge of their historical struggles which has not merely defined them but also given them the confidence to own their role as the “other”. This comes across even in the advertisement placed by Harish’s mother in which she says there is no bar on the caste of the boy she would like for him, but would still prefer if he were an Iyer. This may seem to be an insipid demand but actually reflects the same tired mindset that makes marriage such a frightening proposition for men and women in India. Who is to say that the next step in a gay marriage would not be a demand for dowry or that the wedding takes place at a suitably glamorous venue?
The moment marriage becomes mainstream for gay people, the threat of its redefining gay mores becomes a very real one. Marriage is an ancient institution and like all institutions, it has a habit of submerging everything in its path. While gay marriage is welcome, we need to be careful that we do not end up burnishing the same insidious fault lines that gay people, as part of a larger left-liberal spectrum, have fought long and hard against. Let one victory not negate victories on other fronts.