If you ask Vega Subramaniam, she’ll say she had a “typical” Indian upbringing in the United States. Her parents spoke mostly Tamil at home, dinner consisted of traditional south Indian fare, and weekends were spent at the homes of other Indians. When asked about her partner of 10 years, Vega speaks fondly about the love of her life. But Vega and her partner, Mala Nagarajan, have faced obstacles that many other “typical” Indian Americans don’t have to on their journey together as an out lesbian couple on a quest to get legally married.
Vega and Mala’s most recent struggle is against the Washington State government. Vega and Mala had a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony in 2002 in the presence of family and friends. However, because Washington is among the 48 states in the United States that doesn’t allow same-sex couples to be legally married, Vega and Mala and thousands of other couples are denied the rights and responsibilities of legally recognized marriage.
This past May, the California Supreme Court voted 4-3 in a landmark decision that same-sex couples deserve the freedom to marry under state law. The Court’s decision should serve as a signal that limiting and defining marriage as between a man and a woman is in direct opposition to equal civil and human rights. In response, groups opposed to same-sex marriage have placed Proposition 8 on the ballot, which will ban marriage equality in the state constitution. On November 4, we Californians will have the opportunity to reject Proposition 8 and ensure that couples like Vega and Mala are equal citizens under the law of our state.
Instead of viewing marriage equality as an attack on family values, as many anti-marriage forces have tried to frame the issue, we must recognize that the formation of families based on freedom of choice is the most important way to strengthen the family unit. Establishing marriage equality, in the end, is about the right to establish families on personal terms. Marriage, and the establishment of a family, should not be dictated by government authorities, but rather by the individuals and families involved. Leaving the parameters of family life to be governed by an outside authority leaves any non-traditional family unit at risk, even the multi-generational families established by many South Asians.
Vega and Mala are part of a growing number of openly out LGBT South Asian Americans. According to the 2000 United States Census, as reported by a 2005 study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, four percent of all same-sex couples in California have at least one partner who identifies as ethnically Indian.
For the South Asian community and other communities of color across the United States, this year holds important significance. 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of Perez vs. Sharp, a landmark decision in the California Supreme Court that gave “non-white” Americans and “white” Americans legal license to wed. Before the decision was made, polls showed that, if put to a ballot, interracial marriages would have been voted against by approximately 80 percent of voters. Today many couples are denied that same basic right—freedom to live, love and be recognized equally under the law. We cannot allow basic civil rights to be denied by a majority vote.
As a community devoted to the institution of marriage and the establishment of family, let us not stand in the way of the expansion of this necessary civil right to the entirety of American society.
Siddharth P. Kulkarni is an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, where he is studying political science and economics.