The Long Road to Lasting Marriage Equality in Nepal

By June 20, 2024 June 24th, 2024 Regional

Contributor: Manisha Dhakal
Executive Director
Blue Diamond Society, Nepal

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Nepal issued a landmark ruling supporting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples – ordering the government to form a committee to study the issue of marriage for same-sex couples, and recommend how to implement a law ending marriage discrimination in Nepal. 

After seven years of research and assessment of other countries where same-sex couples could legally marry, the seven members of the committee delivered its report to the Prime Minister’s office in 2014 – finding that Nepal should act immediately to allow same-sex couples to marry, and that doing so will only help families, with no negative impact on society.

Despite the Prime Minister’s office handing over the committee’s report to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens – and a strong advocacy effort led by Blue Diamond Society, engaging with policy makers at the federal, provincial, and local level – the government failed to take action.

So Blue Diamond Society took the fight for the freedom to marry back to court – with our president Pinky Gurgung leading a group of petitioners who filed a case in the Supreme Court, demanding that the government immediately allow LGBTQ+ couples to register their marriages, and ensure that these marriages are afforded the same respect and protection as any other marriage.

Receiving marriage certificate from local government authority by Prakash Chaudhary and Manila Neupane

We secured a historic victory on June 28, 2023 when Supreme Court Justice Til Prasad Shrestha ruled that the government of Nepal must allow LGBTQ+ couples to immediately register their marriages under a temporary registration – which would remain in effect until Parliament passed legislation updating the civil code to codify the freedom to marry. Justice Shrestha’s ruling found that the denial of marriage to LGBTQ+ families was a violation of Articles 18 and 69 of the Nepali Constitution. 

But as we celebrated this ruling, it wasn’t long before both the Kathmandu District Court and Patan High Court flagrantly disregarded the Supreme Court’s ruling – issuing denials to multiple LGBTQ+ couples who sought to register their marriages.

In Kathmandu, the district court claimed they could not register marriages of same-sex couples – while the Patan High Court said that the government must change the law in the civil code before they would marry LGBTQ couples.

So despite three separate Supreme Court decisions over more than 15 years affirming the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, we once again faced inexcusable delays. We were frustrated.

After this series of negative rulings, I went to the Prime Minister’s office, demanding to know what steps our government was taking in implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling. Just days later, the Prime Minister’s office responded, explaining that they had now directed the Home Ministry to implement the court’s decision by allowing LGBTQ+ couples to register their marriages.

Celebrating marriage by Manila Neupane and Prakash Chaudhary

Another step forward, but once again met with a delay. Shortly after the PM’s letter, three more couples were denied registration of their marriages. We knew we had to keep pushing – harder than ever.

Blue Diamond Society organized meetings and briefings with key provincial, local, and federal government authorities to demand the proper implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality – including our National Symposium Meeting on Marriage Equality, which was an important policy dialogue with government agencies. Soon after National Symposium Member of Parliament Ms Sobita Gautam who is also member of the Law, Justice and Human Rights committee under parliament, started this agenda in her committee. 

And finally, our efforts have paid off. On April 24, 2024, the National ID and Civil Registration Department under the Home Ministry circulated a letter to all 753+ local registrars’ offices across, with instructions to begin registering marriages for same-sex couples – as ordered by the Supreme Court. This is reflected in updated, more inclusive marriage registration forms that now allow applicants to select “groom” or “bride” instead of only listing options for one bride and one groom.

Blue Diamond Society and our partners are so grateful to our Deputy Prime Minister & Home Minister, and other allies in the government who did the right thing – and helped ensure that more than 15 years after our first Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples in Nepal are finally free to marry like any other couple.

But our work is far from done. Even as the temporary registration order remains in effect, we must now urge Nepali lawmakers to update our civil code – which still includes discriminatory language excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

We’re confident that as our lawmakers see LGBTQ+ couples marrying, they’ll come to understand that we want to marry for similar reasons – because we share the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. And that Nepali society is stronger when our laws reflect our values, and ensure that all families are treated with the same dignity and respect in every corner of our country.

About the contributor:

Manisha Dhakal is transgender woman with the pronoun she/her. She is an LGBTIQ rights activist from Nepal. Manisha has been involved in Nepal’s LGBTI rights movement since 2001 through different projects including HIV/AIDS, human rights activism, constitutional campaigns, advocacy and capacity building, academic research, LGBTI child rights. She was the first trans woman working with the Nepal Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund.

Manisha is currently the Executive Director of the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s pioneer LGBTIQ rights organization & president of the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities of Nepal.  

Regionally, Manisha is one of the founding members of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network.  She was one of the former Co-Chairs of the ILGA Asia Board. She is also a board member of IRGT (Innovative Response Globally for Transgender Women and HIV).

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