Nepal municipality registers same-sex marriage

Rural local government follows Supreme Court order after rejection by Kathmandu

Photo: SUNIL BABU PANT

Lamjung’s Dordi Rural Municipality on Wednesday became the first local government to register and recognise same-sex marriages in Nepal. 

Authorities of Ward-2 od Dordi Rural Municipality registered the marriage of Maya Gurung—a transgender woman assigned male at birth and legally recognised as male, and Pandey—a cisgender man, becoming the first authority to follow the Supreme Court’s interim order to register same-sex marriages. 

The local government’s decision has made Nepal the first in South Asia to recognise LGBTQIA+ marriages, and the second to recognise such marriages within Asia as a whole, after Taiwan. 

Supreme Court Justice Til Prasad Shrestha issued a temporary order to register same-sex and non-heterosexual marriages in June, and Gurung applied to Kathmandu District Court for the registration of her marriage with Pandey ten days after the order. Gurung and Pandey had married in a Hindu wedding ceremony in 2017. 

But the court rejected Gurung’s registration, saying it did not need to recognise a couple that was not one legal male and one legal female. 

Read also: Right to marry in Nepal, Aastha Dhakal

In September, Gurung filed a petition at the Patan High Court asking it to revoke the District Court’s order stopping their marriage registration, but the High Court rejected the appeal, upholding the Kathmandu District Court’s ruling as being legal.

Judges of Patan High Court said that the federal government was responsible for changing same-sex marriage laws before the lower authorities could begin to register such marriages.

Gurung and Pandey then moved to get their marriage recognised in Gurung's home district of Lamjung, finally succeeding.

Nepal’s civil code currently only recognises marriages between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court had attempted to rectify that by ordering the creation of an interim registry for non-heterosexual marriages until Parliament could change the law. 

Read also: "Nepal is ahead of many countries in LGBTQI+ rights", Nepali Times

However, the two lower courts reversed the apex court’s logic by claiming that the law needed to be changed at the national level first. 

Nepal has long been recognised for its relatively progressive LGBTIQA+ rights and moves regarding marriage equality among Asian nations and the South Asian region. Nepal’s Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to gender and sexual minorities.

In 2007, Nepal introduced laws protecting gender and sexual minorities, and the Supreme Court The court also ordered the government to form a committee to prepare a law legalising same-sex marriage. In 2015 that committee recommended the government ‘grant legal recognition to same-sex marriage on the basis of the principle of equality’. 

However, successive governments failed to bring legislation, leading to further court rulings. In March this year, the court had ordered the government to recognise the marriage of a same-sex couple — a Nepali and a German national—who had gotten married in Germany.

That Dordi officials have upheld the rights of Maya Gurung and Surendra Pandey has been seen as a positive step towards marriage equality in Nepal.

Read also: A mother celebrates Pride, Durga Rana Magar

(Human Rights Watch)

Kyle Knight is the Interim Deputy Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

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