December 18, 2016
KATHMANDU, NEPAL — Apeksha Dahal fell in love when she was 14 years old. Her partner, Sudeepa Gautam, was 16.
But in 2011, when Dahal was 17 years old, her parents told her they were arranging her marriage. They couldn’t accept that she was in love with another woman, says Dahal, who is now 22.
The young, desperate couple attempted suicide by poison, but they were treated in time to save their lives. So they chose another escape: A move to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, where they would build a life together. It wasn’t easy, but the couple survived. Gautam now identifies as a man and goes by the name of Sudeep—he hasn’t had a formal sex change—and the couple is happy, but for one thing: They can’t marry.
“We want to live a happy married life in public,” says Gautam, who is now 24. “We want to be recognized as husband and wife, to adopt a child and give the child our name.”
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Nepal has some of the most gay-friendly laws in South Asia. Same-sex relationships aren’t criminalized, which is uncommon in this region, and in 2007 the Supreme Court asked the government to end discrimination against sexual minorities, legally recognize a third gender and to appoint a committee to explore the legalization of same-sex marriage.
But in the near-decade since that ruling, those recommendations have only been partially fulfilled.
The current constitution, adopted in September 2015, recognizes equality of all citizens and prohibits discrimination of gender and sexual minorities. The third gender was recognized in 2013, and in 2015, the first Nepali passport was issued with a gender category of “other.”
But discriminatory laws are still on the books, and same-sex couples can’t marry, says Parsuram Rai, deputy director of the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT advocacy organization.
The committee appointed to explore the legalization of same-sex marriage recommended in February 2015 that Nepal allow it and remove laws that discriminate against those couples and other sexual minorities, as well as extend the same protections to those people as are extended to heterosexual families.
The government is moving ahead with plans to legalize same-sex marriage based on that committee’s recommendation, says Bharat Raj Sharma, a joint secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. He is a member of a task force that began meeting in November to draft legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
The task force faces a tough challenge, he says.
“It is not easy to draft a law to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage as there are many laws that also should be harmonized,” he says.
Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal
Adhikari, 27, says the law, once implemented, will normalize same-sex couples. He’s been in a relationship with his partner for three years, but neither of them have acknowledged it to their families.
But some Nepalese don’t think the country is ready to legalize same-sex marriage.
Ganesh Gurung, a sociologist, notes that the country doesn’t even have laws guaranteeing gender equality. That’s a sign that people aren’t ready to support same-sex marriage, he says.
“People may not make negative comments openly, but it would not be easy for them to accept same-sex marriage,” Gurung says.
There are many within Nepalese society who consider same-sex marriage an evil that can end a family’s lineage, he says.
But Rai, of the Blue Diamond Society, says he’s encouraged by the incremental steps being taken to introduce same-sex marriage to Nepal.
“We won’t be socially excluded now,” he says. “We will pile pressure on the government to draft the law.”
Gautam, however, says the process to marriage equality in Nepal is taking too long.
“We need the law as soon as possible,” he says. “We want to live a dignified married life in society.”
Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.