Recently, in one of the most progressive rulings on relationships, the Supreme Court of India has widened the legal definition of a family by including unmarried and queer couples. The predominant understanding of the word ‘family’ as a concept in law as well as in society, “consists of a single, unchanging unit of a mother and a father (who remain constant over time) and their children.” The Supreme Court has stated that an “atypical” family unit is as real as its traditional counterpart and hence deserves protection under the law.
The case that made this ruling possible revolved around the law of women’s maternity leave, and it was ruled in favor of Ms. Deepika Singh, a nurse whose employer rejected her request for a maternity leave claiming that she had already previously taken time off to care for her husband’s children in a prior marriage.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachund and A.S. Bopanna wrote in the ruling that the traditional definition of family “ignores both, the many circumstances which may lead to a change in one’s familial structure, and the fact that many families do not conform to this expectation to begin with.” Further, they said that, “familial relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships. Hence, the bench made the verdict that held that a working woman cannot be denied her statutory right to maternity leave for her biological child, no matter the circumstances.
Even though the Supreme Court’s decision is definitive in nature, due to its limited enforcement powers, it is quite unclear how much of an immediate impact this ruling will have when looked at from a practical perspective, taking into account the conservative regions of the country. Regardless, this decision is a significant step towards equality for women and India’s LGBTQIA+ population, as it supports queer couples.