The Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954 is an Indian law that provides a legal framework for the marriage of people belonging to different religions or castes.
It governs a civil marriage where the state sanctions the marriage rather than the religion.
The Indian system, where both civil and religious marriages are recognised, is similar to the laws in the UK’s Marriage Act of 1949.
The applicability of the Act extends to the people of all faiths, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, across India.
Recognition of Marriage:
The Act provides for the registration of marriages, which gives legal recognition to the marriage and provides a number of legal benefits and protections to the couple, such as inheritance rights, succession rights, and social security benefits.
It forbids polygamyand declares a marriage null and void if either party had a spouse living at the time of the marriage or if either of them is incapable of giving a valid consent to the marriage due to unsoundness of mind.
Section 5 of the Act specifies that the parties must give written notice to the Marriage Officer of the District and that at least one of the parties must have lived in the district for at least 30 days immediately before the date of such notification.
Section 7 of the Act allows any person to object to the marriage before the expiration of 30 days from the date of the notice's publication.
The minimum age to get married under the SMA is 21 years for males and 18 years for females.
Q. What is the Differentiation from Personal Laws?
Personal laws, such as the Muslim Marriage Act, 1954, and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, require either spouse to convert to the religion of the other before marriage.
However, the SMA enables marriage between inter-faith or inter-caste couples without them giving up their religious identity or resorting to conversion.
But, once married as per the SMA, an individual is deemed severed from the family in terms of rights like the right to inheritance.
Issues Related to SMA:
Objections to Marriage: One of the main issues with the Special Marriage Act is the provision for objections to be raised against marriage.
This can often be used to harass consenting couples and delay or prevent their marriage from taking place.
In January 2021, the Allahabad HC ruled that couples who wish to solemnise their marriage under the Special Marriage Act can choose not to publish the mandatory 30-day notice of their intention to marry.
Privacy Concerns: The requirement for notices to be published can also be seen as a violation of privacy, as it can disclose the personal information of the couple and their plans to get married.
Social Stigma: Inter-caste or inter-religious marriages are still not widely accepted in many parts of India, and couples who choose to get married under the SMA may face social stigma and discrimination from their families and communities.
Q. What is the Way Forward?
Streamlining the Process: The government could work to simplify and streamline the process to make it easier for couples to get married under this law.
Also, the requirement for a 30-day notice period has been a contentious issue, as it can lead to interference or harassment from third parties.
The government could consider removing this requirement or making it optional in certain cases.
Raising Awareness: Many people in India are not aware of the provisions of the Special Marriage Act or may not know that they have the option to marry someone from a different religion or caste under this law.
The government could work to raise awareness about this law and its benefits, especially in rural areas where awareness is low.