About the Act
- The Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) was enacted to facilitate the marriage of couples professing different faiths and preferring a civil wedding. However, some practical problems arise in registering such marriages.
What are the features of the SMA?
- Under the SMA, parties to an intended marriage should give notice to the ‘marriage officer’ of the district in which one of them had resided for at least 30 days. The notice will have to be entered in a ‘Marriage Notice Book’ and a copy of it displayed at a conspicuous place in the office. The Notice Book is open for inspection at all reasonable times without a fee.
- The law also provides for objections to the marriage. Any person can object to the marriage within 30 days of the publication of the notice on the ground that it contravenes one of the conditions for a valid marriage.
- The marriage officer has to inquire into the objection and give a decision within 30 days. If he refuses permission for the marriage, an appeal can be made to the district court. The court’s decision will be final.
- Also, the Act says that when a member of an undivided family who professes Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina religions, gets married under SMA, it results in his or her “severance” from the family.
What are the hurdles faced by couples?
- The provisions relating to notice, publication and objection have rendered it difficult for many people intending to solemnise inter-faith marriages.
- Publicity in the local registration office may mean that family members objecting to the union may seek to stop it by coercion. In many cases, there may be a threat to the lives of the applicants.
- There have been reports of some groups opposed to inter-faith marriages keeping a watch on the notice boards of marriage offices and taking down the details of the parties so that they can be dissuaded or coerced into abandoning the idea.
- These provisions have been challenged in the Supreme Court recently on the grounds that they violate the privacy of the couples, their dignity and right to marry.
- In the case of Hindu and Muslim marriage laws, there is no requirement of prior notice and, therefore, such a requirement in the SMA, say experts, violates the right to equality of those opting for marriage under it.
What are the other options for registration of inter-faith marriages?
- Many opt for inter-faith marriages through the relevant personal law of the faith of one of the parties. This will involve one of them converting to the religion professed by the other.
- While conversion to Islam and Christianity has formal means, there is no prescribed ceremony for conversion to Hinduism.
- The Hindu Marriage Act is also applicable to “any person who is a convert or re-convert to the Hindu, Buddhist, Jaina or Sikh religion”.