Families can be in the shape of domestic, unmarried partnerships and queer relationships and deserve equal protection under the law like their traditional counterparts, the Supreme Court said, reported Live Law.

A bench comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said that a predominant understanding of the concept of a family, both in the law and in society, is that it consists of a single, unchanging unit of a mother and father and their children.

“This assumption ignores both, the many circumstances which may lead to a change in one’s familial structure, and the fact that many families do not conform to this expectation to begin with,” the bench said. “A household may be a single parent household for any number of reasons, including the death of a spouse, separation, or divorce.”

The bench made the observation on August 16, while granting relief to a Central government employee who was denied maternity leave for her biological child only because her husband has two children from a previous marriage and she had availed the leave to take care of one of them.

“The fact that the appellant’s spouse had two biological children from his first marriage would not impinge upon the entitlement of the appellant to avail maternity leave for her sole biological child,” the court had ruled. The judgement was uploaded on Sunday.

The observations hold significance as several activists have been demanding recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions as well as allowing live-in couples to adopt after the top court decriminalised homosexuality in 2018.

In its August 16 judgement, the bench observed that the roles of guardians and caretakers of children may also change with remarriage, adoption or fostering.

“These manifestations of love and of families may not be typical but they are as real as their traditional counterparts,” the court said. “Such atypical manifestations of the family unit are equally deserving not only of protection under the law but also of the benefits available under social welfare legislation.”

The court also said that the black letter of the law must not be relied upon to disadvantage families which are different from traditional ones.

“The same undoubtedly holds true for women who take on the role of motherhood in ways that may not find a place in the popular imagination,” the court said in the judgement.