CJI-led five-judge bench to hear pleas for same-sex marriage on April 18

New Delhi, May 3 (IANS) The Centre on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that it is agreeable to set up a committee to be headed by the cabinet secretary to examine the administrative steps it can take to address some of the concerns in connection with basic social benefits for same-sex couples.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud that in the context of last hearing, the issue was human concerns and the discussion was something that could be done administratively and he has taken instructions.

Mehta said the “government is positive” about taking certain administrative steps and the government is of the view that this would need coordination between more than one ministry, therefore a committee headed by no less than the cabinet secretary will be constituted.

Mehta said counsel for petitioners can give him their suggestions or the problems which they’re facing, which the committee can examine and will try and see that so far as legally permissible, they are addressed.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, representing one of the petitioners, objected to the use of the term “administrative” by Mehta, saying that some cosmetic changes would not be enough when the petitioners have been asking for changes in the legal regime. The hearing is in progress.

The top court is hearing a batch of petitions seeking legal sanction for same-sex marriages.

On April 27, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to find a way to give same-sex couples basic social benefits, like joint bank accounts or nominating a partner in insurance policies, even without legal recognition of their marital status, while it appeared that court could be agreeing that granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages falls within the domain of legislature.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India and comprising Justices S.K. Kaul, S. Ravindra Bhat, Hima Kohli, and P.S. Narasimha had told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, “We understand our limitation as a court, no question about it. There are so many issues, of course you have made your argument on the legislative side…so many issues on the administrative side…we do not have a model…it will not be appropriate to devise a model, but we can certainly tell the government that look, how law has gone so far now…”

Mehta said class specific problems can be addressed.

The Chief Justice said, “Now what the government can do to ensure about these relationships based on cohabitation or associations, they must be recognized in terms creating conditions of security, social welfare, and while doing that, we also ensure for future that these relationships should cease to be ostracized in the society.”

The top court asked Centre to come back on May 3, with its response on social benefits that same-sex couples could be granted even without legal recognition of their marital status.