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All You Need To Know About The Special Marriage Act, 1954, That Facilitates Inter-Faith Marriages

Posted: February 27, 2020

India’s Special Marriage Act, 1954 provides refuge to consenting adults belonging to different faiths, and wishing to marry each other. Here’s all you need to know.

In a country where honour killings sponsored by the khap panchayats is common, it is not surprising that couples who are from different religions either elope or adopt a third religion.

Inter faith marriages were and are still considered as a taboo. The Special Marriage Act of 1954 was brought forth considering these scenarios. It came into practice when there was a lot of bubbling anger against the reformed Hindu laws.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954 can also be utilized by couples who do not want their marriages to be governed by the various personal laws that are linked to religion. Under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, one does not have to renounce their religions. It dodges the taboo surrounding inter religion marriages.

Basics of the Special Marriage Act, 1954

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 gives any Indian national, irrespective of their religion, the tools to have a legal marriage.

Under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, marriages come under a civil contract and therefore no rites or religious ceremonies need to be performed. So while people belonging to the same religion can use it to get married without a religious ceremony, it is most useful in case of inter-religion marriages. It is the ‘court marriage’ we all have heard about in movies.

The Act lays down certain simple criteria about the bride and bridegroom for the marriage to be fulfilled:
~ neither should have a spouse who is alive;
~ both should be of sound mind;
~ the bride has to be at least 18 years of age and the bridegroom at least 21 years;
~ the bride and the bridegroom should not be in a prohibited relationship.

Other than this, three witnesses have to be present while the oath ceremony is being taken in front of the Registrar of Marriages, who then gives a court marriage certificate approved by the Government.

Limitations of the Special Marriage Act, 1954

While the Act may sound great on paper, and it re-affirms the principle of secularism on which our Constitution is based, it does have its own limitations.

30 days’ prior notice needed can become inconvenient or dangerous

A 30 day prior application has to be submitted at the Marriage Office of the district.

Section 5 of the Act requires that one among the couple at least must have resided in that district for a period of at least 30 days immediately after the date the notice has been submitted. For eg: if X intends to marry Y and he has submitted a notice, X has to reside in the district for at least 30 days after submitting the notice.

Section 6 of the Act requires the Marriage Office to put up a notice about the upcoming marriage in at a place in the office accessible to all, where anyone can see them. Also, the Marriage Office may send a notice to the address of the party who is not a permanent resident of the district in which the application has been made.

This makes it inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous for the couple.

The couples who usually opt for this marriage are the ones whose parents have denied their relationship, and they then turn to the court for solace. Section 6 thus breaches the privacy of the couple, making them an easy target for the relatives to object and stop the marriage. Plus the Marriage Officer can inquire into any objections made, and if found valid, an appeal needs to be made to the district court by either one of the couple or their objecting relatives, and the court’s decision will be final.

Property matters

With regard to property, it should be noted that the Hindu Succession Act be followed only if a person who is a Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain is married to someone who is also a Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain. If one of the couple is of any other religion, these cases will be under the Indian Succession Act. This also goes to the children of the parties concerned.

Cutting off relationships

Section 19 of Special Marriage Act, 1954 feels like a punishment for marrying someone from a different religion. It says that if any one of the member hails from undivided family (i.e. joint family) who professes the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain religion, he will have to sever himself from the family altogether.

Unsafe in Haryana

Haryana’s Court Marriage requires the notice to be sent to the home of the couple. Also, the couple should not be living together in the 30 day notice period. this is not a requirement under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

Benefits of the Act

Divorce is an option

Unlike the earlier 1872 Special Marriage Act, this 1954 amendment gives a provision for divorce. It also speaks of divorce by mutual consent. It registers the marriage with the government thereby legally authorizing it with the court of law and it provides for marriage under special circumstances.

Under Special Marriage Act, 1954, divorce is an option 
~ if one of the parties is a victim of adultery,
~ in case of desertion for more than two years after the petition was filed,
~ in case of imprisonment,
~ in case of cruelty (cruelty is not defined in the Act but cases of risk to life, limb, or health are broadly considered),
~ if anyone has a sexually transmitted disease in a communicable form, or leprosy, or is of ‘unsound mind’
~ in case of rape, sodomy, or bestiality,
~ or if there is mutual consent for a divorce.

About alimony

The income of the wife is taken into consideration while zeroing in on a maintenance amount (i.e. alimony).

More ‘feminist’ in all ways

It prevents child marriage because of the age restrictions imposed. It prevents polygamy. It ensures the woman a claim to shelter and maintenance. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 promotes inter-faith marriages.

Image source: shutterstock

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