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Inter-faith marriages, conversion and the law

  • 10 November, 2020

  • 5 Min Read

Inter-faith marriages, conversion and the law

Context:

  • The article analyses the challenges to couples undertaking inter-faith marriages in the backdrop of recent remarks by the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and a Karnataka Minister proposing to ban conversion for the sole purpose of marriage.

Special Marriage Act:

  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) was enacted to facilitate the marriage of couples professing different faiths and preferring a civil wedding.

 

Provisions SMA,1954:

  • 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 marriage has to be solemnised within three months of the notice, and if it is not, a fresh notice will be needed.
  • 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.
  • When a member of an undivided family who professes Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain religions, gets married under SMA, it results in his or her “severance” from the family.

Issues related to the SMA law:

  • Despite the existence of a special law, some practical problems arise in registering inter-faith marriages.
  • The law’s features of prior public notice and objections have rendered it difficult for couples intending to solemnise inter-faith marriages.
  • The public notice provision place a question mark on the safety and privacy of those intending to marry across religions.
  • In many cases, there may be a threat to the lives of the applicants.
  • There have been reports of right-wing groups opposing to inter-faith marriages. And misusing these data for communal propaganda
  • The objection provision may be used by the family members objecting to the union to seek to stop the marriage by coercion.

SMA against the individual rights:

  • The provisions of the SMA have been challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds that they violate the privacy of the couples, their dignity and right to marry.
  • Right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to right to life as articulated under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Privacy and dignity also flow from Article 21.
  • The requirement in the SMA which is absent in the case of Hindu and Muslim marriage laws violates the Right to Equality (Article 14) of those opting for marriage under SMA.
  • Intervention in marriages involving consenting adults may be unconstitutional.

Freedom of Religion Act:

  • Given the challenges under SMA, many opt for inter-faith marriages through the relevant law of the faith of one of the parties. This will involve one of them converting to the religion professed by the other.
  • However, the Freedom of Religion Act in states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand seem to close even this avenue for couples wanting to undertake inter-faith marriages.
  • The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, both prohibit conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, inducement, allurement and ‘by marriage’.
  • Under these laws, conversion for the purpose of marriage is allowed but marriage done solely for the purpose of conversion may be declared null and void by a family court based on a suit by either party.

Source: IE

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