The Demand for Same-Sex Marriage is anti-feminist, classist, neoliberal and plain stupid

  • October 20, 2023

What the demand for same-sex marriage in India shows is the neoliberal and mindless nature of the so-called queer movement here that has no knowledge of decades of feminist critique and is the willing handmaiden of neoliberal capitalism, writes Ashley Tellis.


The Chief Justice of India is quite right to state that the role of the courts is not to make laws but to interpret them and to hand the question of whether same-sex marriage should be permitted to the Parliament. However, there are more fundamental questions that the same-sex community in India, such as it is, needs to ask of itself before mindlessly being hopeful or mournful about this decision as is its wont.


Why do LGBT people in India want marriage? Is the culmination of the struggle for legal recognition admission into one of the most oppressive and unequal institutions (marriage) and its even more oppressive counterpart (family)? Was the struggle for sexual minority rights only a folding back into the hegemonic majority?


Are we forgetting that the most egregious oppression of sexual minorities comes from conservative institutions like marriage and family, backed by religion and patriarchy? Feminists, in the West at any rate, have offered a critique of marriage and family as institutions for decades now, marking them as anti-social and a barrier to any sense of community or opposition to capitalism.1 Most feminist legal struggles in India for the rights of women have been fought in the contexts of marriage and family: dowry, domestic violence, sati, marital rape. Why are we upholding these institutions that are the foundation of the oppression of women and sexual minorities?


One of the reasons offered by slick, conservative lawyers who bat for the RSS is the question of rights and benefits – health insurance, life insurance, inheritance. The question to be asked is why these rights are linked to the institution of marriage at all? Why is the struggle not to disaggregate these rights from the institution of marriage and allow an individual to nominate who she likes?


As for the central question of dignity, since when is dignity only available to the individual through marriage? Marriage, in fact, is the end of dignity and the wresting of dignity from the individual. How can arguments be made, on the one hand (in Naz), for privacy and autonomy and in the next breath claims be made for dignity only through marital alliance?


In fact, the question of marriage also exposes the dangers in the claim to privacy. As the People’s Union of Democratic Rights report on the family puts it:


It is relatively easy to document the exploitation and oppression that women in our country, particularly women of the labouring classes, are subjected to outside the home. But it is a very difficult task to attempt to document their condition within the home. The reason is that here the oppression is “invisible” for the most part; it takes place within the four walls of the home, and what is more, it is treated as a “family,” a “private” matter. The negligence of the rights of women inside the family is due to the fact that the problems of women inside the family get personalised. The case of each victim in any family appears both to herself and to the public as the problem of that individual woman vis-a-vis her particular family. Consequently, the social nature of the problem as a whole never receives enough attention from the conscious public. And millions of women are expected to fight their private battles with their families, all alone. This individualiza-tion of a social problem is not an accidental outcome of social ignorance but part of the social values that govern contemporary society. The larger societal oppression of women is an extension and aspect of their domestic family situation which in turn is constantly reinforced and sustained by their inequality outside the home.2


As is usual with these slick lawyers, the class blindness is apparent. What same-sex marriage does, as Annemarie Jagose puts it, is “emphasises the continued illegitimacy of other sexual arrangements and the continued exclusion of other social actors.”3 Subjects who are not interested in marriage are excluded from this conservative, elite club.


What same-sex marriage does is legitimise certain values and reiterate the heteronormative, conservative disavowal of other values. As Jagose puts it: “Outside the newly enlarged circle of social approval and privilege afforded by same-sex marriage stand those whose erotic lives are not organised around the values symbolised by marriage: coupledom, monogamy, permanence, domestic cohabitation.”


Jagose lists the people left out: “Unmarried mothers, for instance; adulterers; the devotedly promiscuous; sex workers; the divorced; the bigamous and polygamous; those who are not strangers to the august traditions of the dirty weekend or the one-night stand; single people.”


Jagose ends with an important insight into how same-sex marriage is a smokescreen. She writes “Presenting itself as a magical solution while only distracting us from the real and unaddressed conditions of social inequity, marriage is a red herring for the 21st-century pursuit of social justice.” The poor in India who do not have money to eat three square meals spend lakhs (borrowed) on the marriages of daughters and spend their lives struggling to repay these debts. Must sexual minorities reiterate the hegemony of this bloodsucking institution or offer examples of living outside the trap of these institutions that will help women and sexual minorities imagine lives other than ones trapped in subservience to men and natal and adopted families?


What the demand for same-sex marriage in India shows is the neoliberal and mindless nature of the so-called queer movement here that has no knowledge of decades of feminist critique and is the willing handmaiden of neoliberal capitalism. Moreover, a structural critique of marriage and family and reproductive heteronormativity on which they are predicated will show that these are institutions we should want nothing to do with, not even in the modified form of ‘families we choose’ or create. The social and structural nature of these institutions have to be understood historically as also the exclusions of the poisonous monogamous, married couple.




1 Michele Barrett and Mary McIntosh The Anti-Social Family (London: Verso, 1982. See also Sophie Lewis Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation (London: Verso, 2022).


2 Inside the Family: A Report on Democratic Rights of Women PUDR, 1984 indside_family.pdf (


3 Annemarie Jagose,” The trouble with gay marriage” The trouble with gay marriage (


Ashley Tellis is an academic, journalist, editor and LGBH activist. He is a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes for 2023-24


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