Nepal’s Supreme Court recently ordered the government to register same-sex marriages on a temporary basis, pending the passing of legislation. This is a civil society victory resulting from a court case to realise a constitutional guarantee of equal rights. Civil society will now urge the government to rapidly pass a marriage equality law. The breakthrough is part of a broader global trend of recognising LGBTQI+ rights, but it’s one that’s bringing a backlash, including in other Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. The change should offer hope to Asian LGBQTI+ rights activists – particularly those pushing for marriage equality in India, Japan and Thailand.

Nepal is the latest country to join the global wave of marriage equality. On 28 June, its Supreme Court ruled that the government must immediately offer temporary registration of same-sex marriages, pending a change in the law. Around 200 couples were reportedly seeking to register as soon as the court judgment was made.

Nepal will therefore become the second country in Asia, after Taiwan, to recognise the right of all couples to marry. It’s little surprise that, as in many other countries that have achieved marriage equality, it’s civil society that’s making the change happen, having brought the decisive court case.


Civil society’s breakthrough

Each year brings further important global steps forward on two crucial fronts: decriminalisation of same-sex relations in the many countries where they’re still criminalised, often under outdated colonial-era laws, and recognition of marriage equality in countries that have already made more progress.

Only last month a landmark was achieved in Estonia, which became the first post-Soviet state to legalise same-sex marriage. Now Nepal should become the 36th country in the world where LGBTQI+ people can marry, and the ninth this decade.

In Nepal, these efforts built on an earlier legal breakthrough, when in 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the government must take measures to guarantee equal rights and end discrimination against LGBTQI+ people. This too was the result of a legal petition filed by several LGBQTI+ rights organisations following the country’s dramatic transition from a monarchy to a democratic republic. LGBTQI+ people had been as active as anyone else in demanding democracy but LGBTQI+ rights weren’t immediately recognised in the new Nepal.

The 2007 ruling unlocked significant progress: laws that banned gay sex were repealed that year. In 2015, Nepal’s new constitution recognised the fundamental rights of LGBQTI+ people and forbade discrimination, including against LGBQTI+ people accessing public services. Changes to civil and criminal laws in 2020 banned discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The court also recognised a third gender – a longstanding identity in the cultures of Nepal and other South Asian countries – and the right to have it registered on official documents. In recent years, further court rulings have established the right of transgender people to identify as female, male or third gender.

Nepali schools also offer comprehensive sexuality education to students aged 13 to 15, which includes discussion of LGBTQI+ issues. This came as a result of a campaign by the Blue Diamond Society, a civil society organisation that has led the fight for LGBTQI+ rights in Nepal since 2001. The organisation also provides training on LGBTQI+ issues to young leaders, something that has helped raise awareness of LGBTQI+ rights and the need for policies of inclusion.

As further rights were recognised, continuing marriage discrimination increasingly stood out. A bill to legalise it was drafted soon after the 2007 ruling, consistent with the court’s order to guarantee equal rights, but not much happened after that. It fell on civil society to hold the government to account for its failure to act.

There are still challenges ahead. As yet, the government hasn’t responded to the court ruling, which suggests it’s hardly in a hurry to legislate. That could leave those who have temporary registration in something of a limbo. Their rights remain vulnerable to administrative resistance, leading to uneven enforcement. On 13 July, for instance, the Kathmandu District Court rejected an application from a male couple to register their marriage.

Voices from the frontline

Sanjay Sharma is Programme Director of Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society, a pioneering and leading LGBTQI+ civil society organisation working to ensure equal rights, equal access to public and private services, economic empowerment, representation and protection for all of Nepal’s sexual and gender minorities.


The Blue Diamond Society has supported the queer community since 2001, through a range of projects in a variety of areas. We work to protect children’s rights through programmes promoting interaction between LGBTQI+ children and their families to foster connection and acceptance. We have also created and distributed guidelines in schools and colleges to raise awareness among educators about treating LGBTQI+ children appropriately, and we continue to advocate with the government to further implement these guidelines.

We also conduct HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programmes including care, support and treatment in seven provinces. And we offer mental health counselling and lead sexual health education workshops in schools and communities.

Although Nepal’s Constitution grants equal rights to so-called ‘marginalised’ communities, including LGBTQI+ people, it does not directly address same-sex marriage. So Nepalese human rights and LGBTQI+ rights organisations, including the Blue Diamond Society, filed a petition to the Supreme Court to legalise same-sex marriage. The petition cited Article 69(1) of the Civil Code, which guarantees the general freedom to marry, and Article 18 of the Constitution, which recognises all citizens as equal before the law.

On 28 June, the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling ordering the government to amend the laws and policies that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and make any necessary arrangements for the ‘temporary registration’ of marriages among ‘sexual minorities’. Thereby, same-sex marriages can now be registered provisionally, until a new permanent law is passed to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs must now cooperate with Parliament to implement the Supreme Court ruling. Actual policy change will take a lot of time. But this landmark decision represents significant progress for all LGBTQI+ people in Nepal. The legal recognition of same-sex marriage will foster greater acceptance in society as a whole and among policymakers, which will have a further positive impact on laws and policies.


This is an edited extract of our conversation with Sanjay. Read the full interview here.

Anti-rights backlash

Litigation has become a key means by which civil society wins change on LGBTQI+ rights, as reflected by a recent string of decriminalisation rulings in Caribbean countries. This strategy has the potential to bring change before the public argument has been won. In many countries that have legalised same-sex marriage, legal and policy changes have been ahead of social attitudes. That’s been the case in Nepal, where there’s still stigma, social bias and discrimination. In Nepal’s often fractious politics, some politicians seek to capitalise on that.

Globally, progress towards the recognition of LGBTQI+ rights is a much stronger trend than regression. But steps forward are inevitably followed by an anti-rights backlash, combined with politically opportunistic efforts to mobilise anti-LGBQTI+ sentiment.

This backlash is seen in the USA, from which emanates most of the funding that enables anti-rights campaigning around the world, as well as in European countries – it’s currently underway in Hungary, Spain and Turkey, among others.

But it’s felt most strongly in global south countries, where forces opposing LGBTQI+ rights spread disinformation that these are some kind of western imposition, often as part of some intricate conspiracy theory, rather than rights demanded domestically by excluded groups. This is apparent in several countries in Africa – such as Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda – and in Asia – including Indonesia, where a new criminal code effectively criminalises same-sex activity, and Malaysia, where politicians across the board profit from vilifying LGBTQI+ people.

That’s why positive moves in Africa and Asia are so valuable: they offer hope to embattled LGBTQI+ people not just domestically but around the world.

Progress in Nepal should particularly give heart to activists in India, where the Supreme Court is currently considering a case demanding the recognition of same-sex marriage, and Japan, where similar attempts to win court judgments have encountered setbacks. The good news should also resonate in Thailand, a country with a relatively progressive reputation when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights but where same-sex marriage still isn’t allowed.

Shifting attitudes

Evidence from the countries that have adopted marriage equality shows that public attitudes to same-sex marriage tend to shift in the wake of legal change. In the countries that introduced it in the early years of this century, it now has majority support.

That’s also the case in Taiwan, which legalised same-sex marriage in 2019. And there, changing social attitudes have gone hand-in-hand with further reforms: in January, the government recognised same-sex marriages of Taiwanese people with partners from countries where it isn’t recognised. In May, same-sex couples were given full adoption rights.

The legal recognition of same-sex marriage will foster greater acceptance in society as a whole and among policymakers, which will have a further positive impact on laws and policies.


Nepali activists will work to foster a similar upward trend in Nepal. When it comes to changing social attitudes, the annual roster of Pride events – the main Nepali Pride Parade held each June, a trans parade in December and an LGBQTI+ women’s rally that marks International Women’s Day each March – will remain vital spaces to make LGBTQI+ people more visible and assert their right to exist in public space.

Nepali civil society will hope that by the next Pride event, the law will have changed to enable them to have the same marriage rights as everyone else. But they’ll do more than hope. Navigating the challenges of volatile politics and limited civic space, they’ll keep campaigning until the law is changed – and after that, they’ll stay alert against backlash and push back against all the forms of discrimination that remain.


  • The government of Nepal must respect the court’s decision and pass a law to legalise same-sex marriage.
  • Nepali civil society – including LGBTQI+ groups and wider civil society – should advocate for the quickest possible introduction of an equal marriage law.
  • Civil society should share the lessons from Nepal and show solidarity with LGBTQI+ groups seeking marriage equality in other Asian countries, including in India, Japan and Thailand.

Cover photo by Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images