Popular fashion designer Abhishek Ray and Chaitanya Sharma, a digital marketing expert, had a grand wedding ceremony on July 3, 2022. Same-sex marriage still isn’t legally recognised in India, but many couples across India celebrate their love with social ceremonies. Nearly a year after their socially recognised same-sex marriage, Abhishek reflects on the joys and challenges of married life, and the overwhelming acceptance they have received from the city of Kolkata. The following is a first-person account of Abhishek’s personal story, highlighting the joy of finding love, the challenges faced, and the ongoing fight for equality and recognition.
Life after marriage
My life has changed drastically since our wedding ceremony. Like any other couple, our inclusion into the family was something we had to navigate. For the past 12-13 years, I had been leading an independent life, living on my own terms. But after getting married, it became about more than just my own interests. I had to consider my partner’s and our families’ interests and take on added responsibilities. In the beginning, it was a bit challenging to find our balance, but now, we are learning how to manage it all. I can relate to all my married friends now!
The couple at their traditional wedding in Kolkata, photos of which went viralCourtesy: Charcoal and Vermillion
But overall, the change has been for the better. It’s wonderful to come home to someone. Even when we have to live apart for certain periods due to work or other commitments, the anticipation of seeing my husband again after a month brings butterflies to my stomach.
Chaitanya is Marwari, and I am Bengali, so our cultures are quite different from each other. Our daily habits, food preferences, relatives, and families all have their unique characteristics. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. We have managed to embrace and respect each other’s backgrounds, finding a beautiful harmony in our lives.
‘We have managed to embrace and respect each other’s backgrounds, finding a beautiful harmony in our lives,’ says Abhishek. Above, the couple at a beach near PuriCourtesy: Abhishek Ray
Chaitanya works in digital marketing, which allows him the flexibility to work remotely. As a result, he travels to Kolkata more often than I travel to Gurgaon. I have to accumulate a lot of holidays to spend quality time together. We recently realised that it’s been a year since our wedding, and we are planning to celebrate our first anniversary somewhere special. It has been quite a roller-coaster ride, but there’s nothing we regret.
The progressive and forward-thinking nature of Kolkata as a city
Let me tell you about how Kolkata has been as a city for a same-sex socially married couple to live. Right from the time we got married, Kolkata has been wonderful. Our marriage challenged and shattered many stereotypes. We even invited our neighbours, who are aged 70 and above, to our wedding ceremony, and they accepted us with open arms. The best part is when they ask, ‘How is your husband?’ there is no hesitation in their voice. Kolkata has proven to be way ahead of its time, surpassing even other metro cities. There’s a common notion that Kolkata lags behind Mumbai and Bangalore, but I don’t think so.
‘Kolkata has been a [great] city for a same-sex socially married couple to live in. Right from the time we got married, Kolkata has been wonderful,’ Abhishek saidCourtesy: Abhishek Ray
Our wedding ceremony received extensive media coverage, and initially, people would approach us in malls. But instead of mobbing us, they wanted to congratulate us! Let me give you a small example. I was at a cosmetic store, picking up some items for myself, and the salesgirl put a small lip balm in my bag, saying, “This is for your first anniversary.” Even when I took a flight, the airline crew upgraded my seat while giving me my boarding pass. Of course, there have been negative and dirty comments on Instagram, but those are not worth talking about. At Spencer’s, the manager recognised me and invited me to sit down while their assistant helped me with my shopping. These experiences reflect the progressive and forward-thinking nature of Kolkata as a city.
Being socially married, without legal recognition
There are still certain challenges that we face because we are not legally married. For instance, when it comes to purchasing a house, it will typically be in one person’s name, and the EMI cannot be shared as easily as it can for straight couples. Similarly, issues arise in situations of hospitalisation and medical insurance. If one of us were to be hospitalised, I would not be able to sign any documents on my partner’s behalf due to the lack of legal recognition. Being socially married, without legal recognition, leaves me with limited power to act in such situations. Furthermore, in the unfortunate event of something happening to me, my family would have the legal right to claim my assets and belongings, and not my husband.
Regarding my views on the ongoing court cases seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages, I would like to offer my perspective. I often tell my fellow gay friends and the younger generation that marriage is not just a symbolic seal of love — it comes with hidden loopholes and complex laws and sub-laws. While the progress towards legal recognition is slow, I believe that we must remain patient. Change takes time, and it is important for us to continue advocating for our rights and fighting for equality. Only through perseverance and collective efforts can we hope to see the desired legal reforms that will provide same-sex marriages the same rights and protections as heterosexual marriages.
My message to fellow LGBTQIA+ members
‘While the progress towards legal recognition is slow, I believe that we must remain patient. Change takes time, and it is important for us to continue advocating for our rights and fighting for equality’Courtesy: Abhishek Ray
To my fellow community members, I want to convey a message. There are still individuals who feel hesitant about entering into a committed same-sex relationship, fearing that a marriage won’t work out. But like any relationship, there are pros and cons. We also have our fair share of fights and reconciliations. My message is this: if you truly feel deeply for someone, take your time to get to know the person inside out, and when you’re confident enough, take that step. It’s lovely to be called someone’s husband and to come home to someone.