A young entrepreneur in India is playing matchmaker, arranging marriages between gay singles in a country where homosexuality is still technically illegal.
Urvi Shah, 23, launched the International Marriage Bureau for Gays and Lesbians (IAGM) in 2015. Since then, IAGM has helped 21 couples in India, and more than 100 couples internationally, form long-term partnerships and marriages.
“Profiles got exchanged, interests matched, feelings were expressed, and we stepped into an eternal bonding of happiness and bliss,” reads one online testimonial. “Kudos IAGM for bringing longing souls together.”
A majority of Indians still prefer arranged marriages—many young people say they they’d rather outsource the arduous work of finding a mate and focus on nurturing friendships and careers.
Taboos and laws against homosexuality have meant gay men and women were excluded from this tradition but Shah’s hoping to change that—her company’s tagline is “get hitched without a hitch.”
She was inspired by meeting several prominent Indian LGBT activists, including openly gay prince Manvendrasingh Gohil and transgender rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the first trans person to represent southeast Asia in the United Nations.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in India in 2009 but, just four years later, the country’s Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making same-sex relations illegal once more. Despite the fact that 95% of the population believes it the law should be repealed, marriage equality is still a distant dream for LGBT Indians.
As a workaround, some of the couples who used Shah’s service have gone abroad the knot. Others have had symbolic ceremonies, and some just remain personally committed to their relationships.
Arranged marriages may account for why India has one of the world’s lowest divorce rates— people enter into them with lower expectations than if they married for love.
While the matchmaking process is normally undertaken by parents, often with help from relatives and family friends, young queer Indians may not have family that’s comfortable with helping them find a partner. (Though, in 2015, one loving mother made headlines when she placed an ad for a groom for her gay son in a Mumbai newspaper.)
Shah’s clients fill out questionnaires that are reviewed by the IAGM staff, most of whom are members of the LGBT community themselves. From there, matched singles enter into an accelerated form of dating with the goal of reaching the altar—sooner rather than later.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but Shah is determined to keep going.
“There were phone calls telling us that we would be in trouble if we didn’t stop,” Shah told Your Story. “But we never paid much attention to those.”
She’s already strategizing her next brilliant idea: An organization that helps people find LGBT-friendly employment.