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Obamas googly


US President Barack Obama has expressed himself in favour of legalising same-sex marriages. According to him, he has ‘evolved’ into this thinking over the years, particularly following discussions on this issue with his wife and children. By stating this he makes clear that this is his personal opinion emerging from what he has understood about the subject and, that, such matters are always an ongoing process with little scope for rigidity. However, considering who he is and the power he wields, this fact has considerably greater import, particularly in light of the coming presidential elections in the US.
This development may not come as a surprise to the common Indian, considering that ‘Amreekans’ are more or less though of as ‘lost cases’, carrying on their shoulders the ‘guilt’ of an ‘immoral’ Western society in its entirety. It is, however, a big deal in the US, where a bitter battle is being fought on this issue between the liberals and the conservatives. Obama has voiced his opinion on a subject that, it is believed, will cost him an important number of swing votes in an election expected to be a close one. Any Indian politician worth his ‘gutka’ would tell him to avoid ‘contentious’ issues at election time. Which is what makes the difference! Obama has set the agenda and it will be for the people to make up their minds. He has placed his trust in their judgment.
Considering that there are a number of countries that have legalised same-sex marriages, and in the US it is for individual states to take the decision, for one who is considered ‘leader’ of the ‘free world’ to have staked his political career on behalf of a fringe group is of historical importance. Will human civilisation take another step forward in granting greater individual liberty vis a vis social obligations?
Legalising same-sex marriages in the US is important because of technical reasons, apart from the sentiment involved. All marriages there have to be registered with the state, even if they are conducted by Elvis Presley look-alikes in Las Vegas. In India, on the other hand, this was, till recently, not an issue, as marriages were considered legal even if conducted in a variety of ways. However, for legal purposes, the need for registration is becoming increasingly important, which has led to the problem of resolving traditional customs with the state’s requirements. India is also moving painfully towards mandatory registration of all marriages.
The moment a marriage needs to be registered, a number of laws kick in, particularly regarding age of consent, etc. In a country where women are married off without blinking an eye to trees, dogs, and even inanimate things like wells, same-sex marriages have been occasionally solemnised by priests without incident. It is a when a same-sex ‘couple’ applies for passports, for instance, that issues would arise as well as the need to conform with the law. Now that homosexuality has been decriminalised in India, would registration of such unions be the logical next step?
The religious right in the US is fighting what has been a losing battle, so far, against homosexuality. Obama has upped the ante yet another notch. Should he be re-elected, it would be an endorsement of his stand that ‘personal’ issues that do not impinge upon the rights of others should not be ultra vires of the law.
India, for one, would not remain unaffected by that development and religious and political leaders would have to show how ‘evolved’ they are on this issue.