One step forward two steps back on same-sex marriage

Nepal may be one of the most liberal countries in the region in safeguarding rights of transgender people, but it is yet to legalise same-sex marriage. New legal provisions have made it even more difficult for transgender couples to get legal status, and live in dignity.

Nepal's new Civil Code Act that came into effect in August has not criminalised same-sex marriage, but it defines marriage as an act of two opposite-sex people above 20 years of age accepting each other as husband and wife.

This provision, according to senior advocate Satish Krishna Kharel, has not just denied the existence of transgender people, it also means same-sex couples cannot get married legally, and they cannot live-in without fear.

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This is one step forward, two steps back. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that citizens can choose their gender identity based on 'self-feeling', Nepal's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community has won a series of battles for equal rights. They can now register as a third gender for citizenship, passport, voter ID and even in the census.

But Nepal's reputation as a tolerant, forward-thinking country in terms of the LGBT rights is now in danger not just because the Civil Code accepts only opposite-sex marriage, but also because this new Act contains several discriminatory provisions like only son or daughter (and not a third gender) are entitled to inheritance.

Nepali Times caught up with three transgender couples to find out how the newly-enacted civil code has shattered their dreams, and is affecting their everyday lives.

Anjel Lama and Saurabh Shrestha

Anjel Lama, 19, was born as a boy, but she always felt and behaved like a girl. Her name was Sabin Lama in the birth certificate. She has been living together with Saurabh Shrestha, 20, in Kathmandu for the last two years. Saurabh and Anjel want to move to Australia as husband and wife, but they cannot get a marriage certificate because the new law only allows opposite-sex marriage.

Anjel was crowned as the Miss Pink 2018, and is preparing herself to participate in next year's international transgender beauty pageant in Thailand. But she does not have a citizenship certificate yet, without which she cannot apply for a passport

She went to her home village in Kavre last year to apply for citizenship, and wanted to be identified as a third gender, but she was ridiculed and sent away.

Although some LGBT people have acquired Nepali citizenship based on their true identity after the 2007 verdict, this is still not possible for those whose identity was already marked either as son or daughter in birth certificates.

Armand Rana and Artisha Rana

Armand and Artisha met on Facebook, and instantly fell in love. They have been living together in a Lazimpat apartment for the last four years.

Armand's mother has accepted Artisha as her daughter-in-law, and Artisha's mother also frequently visits them. They are happy that their families have accepted them as who they are, but they are disappointed that the government won’t allow them to live as husband and wife.

Artisha is on hormone treatment to feminise herself, and says: "We want to get married and adopt a child, but the law does not allow us to live as who we are."

Dipesh Bhandari and Ani Lama

Ani Lama, 25, underwent sex change surgery in Bangkok six months ago, and it is now difficult to tell from her physical appearance that she was once a man.

But, long before changing her sex, she had started to live together with a man whom she first befriended on Facebook. For the last three years, she has been living as the wife of Dipesh Bhandari, a 27-year-old statistics officer at an NGO working for LGBT rights.

Dipesh and Ani want to get married, and are waiting for the day when Nepal passes the law legalizing same-sex marriage.