A court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu ruled Monday that a marriage between a cisgender man and a transgender woman is valid. The Madurai-based bench of the Madras High Court held the term “bride,” as used in Section 5 of India’s Hindu Marriage Act, to be inclusive of transgender women.
State registration authorities had refused to recognize and register the marriage of a cisgender man and a transgender woman, arguing that a transgender woman cannot be a “bride” under the Hindu Marriage Act. The couple approached the Madras High Court, claiming a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Judge G R Swaminathan, while allowing the couple’s writ petition, observed that transgender rights are a part of the Indian constitution. Reaffirming the constitutional principles recognized by the Supreme Court of India in National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India, he said, “Sex and gender are not one and the same. A person’s sex is biologically determined at the time of birth. Not so in the case of gender. The Supreme Court has held that Article 14 of the Constitution of India which affirms that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India would apply to transgender individuals.”
“Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity, therefore, impairs equality before the law and equal protection of the law and violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the judgment adds. The court was also of the view that Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution should be expansively interpreted to encompass gender identity. Article 19(1)(a) aims to ensure the freedom of speech and expression while Article 21 guarantees the “protection of life and personal liberty.”
The court ruled that authorities could not question an individual’s “personal autonomy” to “express her gender identity.” “It is not for the State authorities to question this self-determination,” it said.