Forced marriages of LGBT+ people are a human rights abuse

by Ahmar Mustikhan | Journalist
Monday, 11 March 2019 01:00 GMT

A groom with henna dyed patterns on his hands, wears a traditional handmade garland on his wrist, as he waits for his wedding to start, during a mass marriage ceremony organized by the Pakistan Hindu Council in Karachi, Pakistan, January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

I married to cover up my sexual orientation - and so did my father

Ahmar Mustikhan is a journalist based in Washington DC in the United States @mustikhan

There is a saying in eastern culture that a stone looks good where it belongs. And indeed I never thought I would come to the United States, at age 41, to come out and live my life openly as a gay man.

Some words change lives; these from my mother changed my live forever.

"Why do you guys always blame me?" my mother protested. "Why don't you give me credit for being faithfully married to a f*****. Your father was gay; he spent all his money on men." That was the moment I told myself I would not relive my father’s miserable life and, two years later, I was in the United States where I came out with a vengeance.

That was in 1998, just few months after my divorce. I was very low that my totally dishonest, forced marriage to a woman – I married to cover up my sexual orientation under social pressures – did not last even three years.

The marriage of my parents in early 1940s was undoubtedly forced, by family and society. In my case in 1995, it was more down to social pressure as I was feeling like a black sheep after all my peers got married in 1980s and my younger nephews and nieces were getting hitched in the early 1990s. The story of such marriages continues today for hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan and India and many other countries where homosexuality is outlawed.

Forced marriages of gay men and lesbians are also common among expatriate communities in countries around the world.

In Britain, forced marriages among Pakistani, Indian and other communities has obliged the government to launch the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU).

Though the FMU distinguishes between a marriage of convenience of gay and lesbian couples as being different from a coerced marriage, in reality the former – where true love is essentially missing – are also forced, not by family in this case, but by social and cultural and religious expectations.

The FMU has detailed some cases to underscore the disastrous impact on those within the LGBT+ community who are married against their wishes, after effectively becoming a victim of human trafficking at the hands of their families.

For instance in the case of Sukhvinder, his relatives tricked him into going to India. 

“Once there, his family took his mobile phone, passport and money,” the FMU’s report stated. “The male members of his family told him that they knew about his sexuality, and that he would have to remain in India and marry a girl already chosen for him from the village.

“When he refused, they beat him.”

He returned to the UK with the help of the British consulate. But his case is far from unique. Yasmin, a lesbian from Pakistan, fell victim to a similar scenario. Estimates from the FMU suggest at least 30 LGBT+ people were affected last year, but the actual numbers are much higher as no one wants to talk about the issue.

According to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, forced marriages among south Asian and Middle East communities are widespread but remain hushed up. He calls forced marriages of LGBT+ people a “human rights abuse that is rarely acknowledged, let alone combated”.

At the time of my wedding, my late parents asked me a question that I find odd even today: “Will you be able to consummate your marriage?”

Instead of this riddle, had they told me at the time that my father is gay, I would not have married. I am glad that my lone son in Pakistan has forgiven me for my dishonest marriage and is open minded enough to accept me for who I am, though I am certain he is judged unkindly in that conservative country because of his father.

The majority of my relatives don’t talk to me because I came out.

Until such time LGBT+ people are treated as equal human beings on a par with their heterosexual counterparts, and same-sex unions become recognised as both legally and socially acceptable, I am afraid forced marriages of gay and trans people will continue even in the west.