The Supreme Court of Nepal has ruled that the government must recognize the same-sex foreign spouse of a Nepali citizen, Human Rights Watch reports. The case, Adheep Pokhrel and Tobias Volz. v. Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Immigration, was brought by a gay couple who were legally married in Germany in 2018. In light of the marriage equality case currently being fought in India’s Supreme Court and the push to legalize LGBTQ+ marriage in Japan, the ruling in Nepal is a signifier of change to come for marriage equality in Asia.

Building on precedent

Pokhrel, a Nepali citizen, and Volz, a German citizen, applied for a non-tourist visa for Volz in July 2022, which would entitle him to the same rights to live in Nepal as any married heterosexual spouse in the same circumstance. Nepali authorities initially denied the request, based on the fact that the application form reads “husband” and “wife” and does not recognize two husbands.

Applying for the same visa again in August 2022, the husbands submitted the Supreme Court’s judgment in Suman Panta v. Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Immigration, et al. (2017), which ordered authorities to grant foreign national same-sex spouses non-tourist visas. The government officials again denied the application, based on the same grounds as before.

That case, and Pokhrel and Volz’s case, drew from other Supreme Court judgments, including the landmark case of Sunil Babu Pant et al. v. Nepal (2007), in which the court, prompted by LGBTQ+ rights activists, ordered the government to form a committee to study same-sex relationship recognition laws around the world. After thorough studies, the report was published in 2015, recommending that “the Government of Nepal remove the legal provision that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman and that it embrace the norm that a marriage can occur between two persons, and to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriage on the basis of the principle of equality.” Legislative action to enshrine marriage equality for LGBTQ+ couples has yet to be passed.

The court’s ruling

In addition to ordering the authorities to legally recognize Pokhrel and Volz’s union, the judges have instructed government leaders to urgently consider the recommendations of the 2015 report. Building on judgments from the 2007 and 2017 cases, as well as others recognizing LGBTQ+ rights, the court ruled that failure to legally recognize same-sex spouses violates both the constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations.

“Nepal has a global reputation as a leader on LGBT[Q+] rights, and the government needs to live up to it with a tangible policy change,” says Kyle Knight, senior LGBTQ+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. The Equally Wed heart is a trademark of Palladino Publishing, LLC.

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Featured image by Ashok Sharma