Catholic Officials in India Back Government’s Opposition to Marriage Equality Legalization

Bishop Peter Paul Saldanha

Some Catholic officials in India have affirmed the government’s opposition to marriage equality, diverging from several Indian church leaders’ more positive stance in recent years.

India’s Supreme Court is in the middle of a case asking for same-gender marriages to be legalized. In an affidavit ahead of the hearings, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, stated its opposition to marriage, saying such a relationship “is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children.”

Bishop Peter Paul Saldanha of Mangalore, a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s Office for Doctrine, expressed agreement with the government’s stance, stating the government is doing a “commendable job.” According to Saldanha, the church believes that same-gender marriage is “unnatural,” and he therefore hopes that the Supreme Court rejects legalizing equal marriage rights. Church leaders have also echoed claims that the question of equal marriage rights is a Western issue imported to India.

The discussion surrounding marriage equality comes after the Indian Supreme Court’s historic ruling in 2018 that decriminalized homosexuality. Since then, at least 15 pleas calling for recognition of same-gender relationships have been filed in courts. The Supreme Court began hearing the case in earnest this month.

Sr. Anastasia Gill, a Catholic nun who is a Supreme Court lawyer, believes that “it will be difficult for society to accept them [same-sex couples]” since “Indian society is not yet ready for it.” However on a personal level, Gill was more affirming, saying “as an individual Christian I respect same-sex couples as they are also the creation of God.”

This latter part of Sr. Gill’s comment is more consistent with the recent positive direction of LGBTQ+ issues in the Indian church. For instance, long before the Supreme Court took up the legal status of homosexuality in 2018, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai advocated publicly for its decriminalization. Indeed, Gracias, who was recently appointed to Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, was the only major religious leader in India who then opposed an initiative to recriminalize being LGBTQ+. In other moments, the cardinal spoke out for better pastoral care during the 2014 Synod on the Family, said to LGBTQ+ Catholics in an interview with Bondings 2.0 that the church “embraces you, wants you, needs you,” and was instrumental in the launch of both Rainbow Catholics India and a hotline to help LGBTQ+ Catholics.

More broadly, Indian women religious and other pastoral workers have expanded ministries to transgender people. The Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima began work to support trans people in conjunction with several non-governmental organizations. Church officials in the state of Kerala launched a school for trans students who had been rejected by their families or found themselves unhoused for other reasons, working with the Carmelite Sisters’ existing trans ministry. Nationally, Caritas India announced an initiative for trans outreach back in 2016.

Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, commented:

“At the grassroots, and with the support of many church leaders, Indian Catholics thankfully are continuing to expand the church’s outreach to all LGBTQ+ people. The faithful there act for justice and love because this is the mandate of our common faith. With the issue of marriage equality before the country’s Supreme Court, church leaders should focus on this witness of justice instead of reinforcing LGBTQ-negative cultural attitudes—for even Pope Francis believes that LGBTQ+ couples deserve legal protection.”

Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2023

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