Nepal celebrates Pride but LGBTQ couples face marriage hurdles

Maya Gurung (right) Surendra Pandey (left) held a Hindu marriage ceremony in 2017, and live together with their dog and cat (Prakash MATHEMA)
Maya Gurung (right) Surendra Pandey (left) held a Hindu marriage ceremony in 2017, and live together with their dog and cat (Prakash MATHEMA)

Transgender woman Maya Gurung had hoped to march at Nepal's Pride parade Thursday with her legally recognised husband -- but a landmark ruling to give LGBTQ couples greater marriage rights appears stalled.

The Supreme Court in June issued an interim order to allow all same-sex and transgender couples to register their marriages, but two months on, none have been able to do so.

Gurung, 41, and Surendra Pandey, a 27-year-old man were among the first to go and sign.

"All people of our community were happy, there was a hope for us that we would get justice," Pandey told AFP, clutching a balloon as he joined the march.

"We moved ahead with full confidence."

However, when Gurung and Pandey filed an application, the district court refused to register their marriage, based on its interpretation of the Supreme Court's order.

The couple -- who held a Hindu marriage ceremony in 2017, and live together, with their dog and cat -- filed an appeal at the High Court, but the hearings have been postponed for weeks.

Without formal papers, Pandey said, they were in "limbo" and unable to access the rights of a married couple, including owning property together, or adoption.

- 'A dream' -

"We are also the citizens of this country, we feel like there should not be any gender discrimination," Gurung said.

"We cannot even adopt a child," Pandey said. "It will just be a dream for us".

Many in the community are waiting on Gurung and Pandey to pave the way and register their marriage, so they can follow.

"It has been disappointing," said transgender activist Bhumika Shrestha, 35, who is hoping to marry her partner of more than four years.

"But the registration is only the beginning. We need legal provisions for all couples to get rights that are a norm in a marriage."

Thursday's parade in the capital Kathmandu drew hundreds of members of Nepal's LGBTQ community, and was timed to coincide with the Hindu festival of Gai Jatra.

Traditionally, Gai Jatra is when people pay their respects to those who have recently died.

But when Nepal was under royal rule, it was also a chance for people to criticise the government, with many dressing in colourful costumes satirising politicians, as a brass band blasted out lively tunes.

Nepal already has some of South Asia's most progressive laws on homosexuality and transgender rights, with major reforms passed in 2007 prohibiting discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

A third gender category for citizenship documents was introduced in 2013, and Nepal began issuing passports with the "others" category two years later.

But many in the community still face discrimination, particularly for jobs, health and education.

- 'Dedicate our lives' -

"We say that in Nepal we have many rights... but we have to struggle on the ground for implementation," Pinky Gurung, head of rights group the Blue Diamond Society, told AFP.

More than 900,000 of Nepal's roughly 30 million population identify as a sexual minority, according to the society.

But Nepali law had long stayed silent on same-sex or transgender marriages, despite a 2015 expert committee recommendation to legalise same-sex marriage.

That followed a Supreme Court order to enshrine the rights of sexual minorities.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court also ordered the government to recognise a non-heterosexual marriage of a Nepali with a foreigner and issue a spousal visa.

Gurung and Pandey are determined to continue the legal battle so that the next generation's lives will be easier.

"We will dedicate our lives to this until the state gives us justice," Gurung said.

"We will fight as long as we are alive."