India's First Gay Marriage Ad Is An Interesting Mix Of Progressive & Traditional Values

The response, so far, to India’s first gay marriage ad seems fairly excellent — especially considering that homosexuality is deemed a crime by the Indian Supreme Court. That harsh reality is something gay rights activist Harish Iyer, 36, has challenged through his prominent efforts as an LGBT campaigner. And now his mother has indulged in some subversion of her own, by doing something completely normal in India: posting a matrimonial ad for her son. Padma Iyer placed the ad in search of a groom in Mumbai's Mid-Day newspaper on Tuesday, and Harish has already received half a dozen responses, according to BBC News.

Marriage ads are still commonplace in India, where middle-class parents frequently post matrimonial notices for their eligible children. Indeed, one 24-year-old woman ironized the custom by creating her own, unique, ad earlier this year. But Padma's notice is believed to be the first such ad seeking a homosexual alliance. Her ad, searching for a 25-to-50 year old “well-placed, animal-loving GROOM,” was fairly ordinary in its particulars — aside from the central divergence on the question of gender. “I think it’s absolutely normal for any mother to wish for her son to settle down. My mother is no different. She’s 57, and fears I’ll be alone after she’s gone,” the 36-year-old Harish wrote in an editorial for India’s NDTV this week.

But his editorial for the local news channel also made clear that “normal” was not how all of India might approach such a marriage. The ad was only published in Mid-Day, he writes, after being rejected by other newspapers — including The Times of India, the country’s largest English-language daily — on legal grounds. Indeed, the Times at first thought the Iyers had made a “grammatical error” in the search for two grooms. The newspaper has since made a statement proclaiming its neutrality on the issue, and unwillingness to “go against something that the supreme court has upheld.”


After a 2009 ruling decriminalizing homosexual relations, India’s Supreme Court reinstated a colonial-era law banning gay sex in December 2013. Since then, the court has refused to review the ban, despite petitions from the government and gay rights activists. Although the ban is not often used to punish people for consensual sexual relations, according to The New York Times, activists face an uphill battle against religious groups who believe that homosexuality is “against Indian culture.”


Regardless, Mid-Day (an English-language daily) allowed the ad to be placed. “As an organisation, we have always supported equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, caste, sexual orientation, the colour of the skin, or whatever,” Sachin Kalbag, executive editor of Mid-Day, told The Wall Street Journal. “Therefore, when the gay matrimony ad came to our office, we did not even think twice about publishing it.”

Now, Harish is looking forward to what love may come. His mother “is going through the proposals,” he told BBC News. “[S]he will draw a shortlist and tell me who to meet. I am looking forward to meet them. I am hoping to find a partner now.”

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Although Harish claims not to understand “the controversy over this advert” in his BBC interview, the groundbreaking notice has certainly been the occasion of debate — even amongst India’s LGBT and activist communities. Some have championed the move as a step forward. “Are we going to pretend that gay people don't exist or kill them all?" Delhi-based activist Monish Kabir Malhotra asked, according to BBC News, while expressing support for the cause. But others critiqued the ad because of its more commonplace features.

Matrimonial ads often stipulate the preferred caste for the groom or bride-to-be, and the ad Padma placed was no different in this respect. Her ad for Harish indicated that proposals from members of the Iyer caste — an upper class Brahmin community from the south — would be preferred. Some have seen the gesture as discriminatory. But Harish clarified this point in his NDTV article. “My mother said that the preference for Iyer was obviously not important. She said she wouldn't mind even if I marry someone differently-abled,” he wrote.

The expectant groom hopes to reflect this interest in social equality in his eventual wedding ceremony. He told NDTV, “I guess my wedding will be a vegan ceremony, and will have a mix of the best customs of all religions and castes.”

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