Nepal becomes the first South Asian country to recognise same-sex marriage

Nepal, a historically conservative and traditionalist South Asian country, has become the first nation in which same-sex marriage has been definitively recognised. Only last May, in fact, Nepal’s Supreme Court had issued a ruling requiring the government to recognise egalitarian marriage and the same-sex foreign spouse of a Nepalese citizen.

From now on, all same-sex marriages in Nepal can be registered. Supreme Court Justice Til Prasad Shrestha ordered that same-sex marriages and ‘non-traditional heterosexual unions’ be registered immediately, pending the marriage law being finally passed.

In addition, it was ruled by the Supreme Court that a separate marriage register for same-sex couples should be established, giving them the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Sunil Pant, one of Nepal’s leading marriage equality activists and previously the first and only gay member of parliament, commented on the ruling: ‘People are already celebrating,’ he confessed to The Human Rights Watch. “They are rushing back to their villages to collect their marriage documents.” Pant estimates that around 200 same-sex couples could marry in the coming months.

The positive outcome of the process comes, therefore, at the end of a petition organised and planned by some LGBTQIA+ activists, who called for the enforcement of pre-existing rulings. There are, in fact, rulings dating back to 2007, and for more than fifteen years they have been trying to obtain the recognition of same-sex marriage from the Nepalese government through the formation of a committee to prepare an ad hoc law. The current one – strictly speaking – unlike the previous ones, is the first to have yielded positive results.

The Supreme Court of Nepal has given opponents of the historic ordinance two weeks to file any objections.

If all were to materialise, Nepal would become the first South Asian nation to commit itself to marriage equality. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives still do not allow same-sex couples to marry. Within the Asian continent, only Taiwan has legalised same-sex marriage.

India, too, is working towards the same outcome: in April, a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court laid the groundwork for a debate on whether the citizens of the world’s largest democracy can definitively achieve marriage equality.

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