Special Marriage Act: What is it?

23 May 2023  Read 2632 Views

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 (SMA) in India allows for solemnising marriages between individuals of different religions or castes. It provides a legal framework for interfaith & inter-caste marriages to ensure that such marriages are registered and legally recognised. Under the Special Marriage Act, any two persons: 

  1. who are not already married

  2. who are not within the prohibited degrees of relationship 

can marry each other.

Although this Act is intended to promote secularism & an individual’s freedom of choice in marriage, yet there have been many instances when this law became controversial. The most recent instance was the same-sex marriage case wherein a couple pleaded that same-sex marriage must be recognized under the Special Marriage Act while other reasons can be the cases of honour killings, forced conversions, status symbols & many more.

So, let's discuss in this article some basic examples, concepts and cases under the Special Marriage Act.

When can a marriage be registered under SMA?

Let’s try to understand the concept with a few examples:

  1. In 2019, a Muslim woman and a Hindu man in Uttar Pradesh got married under the Special Marriage Act. The marriage was not supported or recognized by their family & community. So, they registered their marriage under the Act

  2. In 2018, a couple from two different castes in Kerala got married under the Special Marriage Act. The marriage was not supported or recognized by their family & community. So, they registered their marriage under the Act

  3. In 2016, a transgender couple in Mumbai got married under the Special Marriage Act. After facing a lot of hurdles, they were finally able to use the Act to register their marriage and start their life together.

Hence, any couple, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed, can register their marriage under the Special Marriage Act after meeting the eligibility criteria.

However, in a recent instance, the Supreme Court of India heard a series of arguments in the matter of same-sex marriage wherein a petition was filed by 2 gay couples pursuing recognition of same-sex marriage under the Special Marriage Act of 1954. The main issue related to the validity of marriage between same-sex couples.

Features of the Special Marriage Act

The act also permits marriages between Indian nationals and foreigners. The marriage procedure under the said Act differs from marriage under any other personal laws. 

  • Under the Act, both parties must give notice of their intention to marry to the Marriage Registrar in their district & this notice is then posted for 30 days to allow any objections to be raised. 

  • If there are no objections, the couple can get married before the Marriage Registrar and three witnesses.

  • The act even mentions marriage registration for proper legal recognition. The registration process involves submitting documents like the marriage certificate, couple images, and proof of age & address.

One of the significant cases of the SMA in India is the Seema v. Ashwani Kumar case (2006), wherein the SC addressed the issue of the validity of a marriage solemnized under the SMA and the couple's right to privacy. This case reaffirmed individuals' right to choose their life partners irrespective of caste, religion, or societal pressures. Read until the end to learn more about this case with other landmark ones!

 

Why was Special Marriage Act passed?

While inter-caste marriages have been a subject of controversy, The Special Marriage Act was passed in India in 1954 to provide a legal framework for interfaith marriage, including social ostracism of couples and their families, legal disputes over inheritance and property rights, and difficulties in obtaining government benefits and documents inter-caste marriages. Prior to the enactment of this law, marriages between individuals from different religions or castes were not recognized by law and were considered illegal. These issues include the social ostracism of couples and their families, legal disputes over inheritance and property rights, and difficulties obtaining government benefits and documents.

  • The Special Marriage Act aimed to address these issues by providing a legal mechanism for individuals to marry outside their religion or caste and to register their marriages in a way that was legally recognized.
  • The act allows couples to solemnize their marriage before a Marriage Registrar without any religious ceremonies or rituals. The act also provides for the registration of marriages, which is necessary for the legal recognition of the marriage.
  • The act is an important step towards promoting the right to choose one's partner and ensuring that all citizens have equal rights and opportunities irrespective of their religion, caste or community.
  • It has helped to reduce the discrimination and social stigma associated with interfaith and inter-caste marriages in India and has provided legal protection to such couples and their families.

Marriage registration under Special Marriage Act

The marriage registration procedure under the Special Marriage Act in India is as follows:

  1. Notice of Marriage: The first step is to give notice of the intended marriage to the Marriage Registrar of the district where at least one of the parties has resided for a period of not less than 30 days prior to giving notice. The notice should be in writing, signed by both parties and include details such as their names, ages, addresses, occupations, etc.

  2. Publication of Notice: The Marriage Registrar then posts the notice in his office and in a conspicuous place in the locality where the parties reside. The notice will be published for 30 days to allow any objections to be raised.

  3. Objections: If no objections are raised during the 30-day notice period, the Marriage Registrar will issue a certificate stating that the notice has been duly published and that no objections have been received.

  4. Marriage: The marriage can occur at any time after the expiration of the 30-day notice period but within 90 days from the date of the notice. The marriage can be solemnized at the Marriage Registrar's office or any place within a reasonable distance.

  5. Registration: After the marriage has been solemnized, both parties, along with three witnesses, should sign the marriage certificate in the presence of the Marriage Registrar. The Marriage Registrar will then register the marriage and issue a marriage certificate.

Documents required for marriage registration under Special Marriage Act

The documents required for marriage registration under the Special Marriage Act include proof of age and address, passport-sized photographs of the bride and groom, and a copy of the notice of marriage. In addition, both parties should provide an affidavit stating that they are unrelated to each other within the prohibited degrees of relationship. The following are the documents required for registration of marriage under the Special Marriage Act in India:

  1. Application form: An application form for registration of marriage under the Special Marriage Act needs to be filled and signed by both the bride and groom.

  2. Proof of age and identity: Any one of the following documents can be submitted as proof of age and identity - birth certificate, school leaving certificate, passport, PAN card, driving license, etc.

  3. Proof of address: Any one of the following documents can be submitted as proof of address - an Aadhaar card, voter ID card, driving license, passport, utility bills, etc.

  4. Passport-sized photographs: Both the bride and groom need to submit passport-sized photographs.

  5. Marriage invitation card: If available, a copy of the marriage invitation card can also be submitted.

  6. Affidavit: An affidavit stating that both the bride and groom are not related to each other within the prohibited degrees of relationship.

  7. Divorce decree: If either the bride or groom is a divorcee, then the decree of divorce needs to be submitted.

  8. Death certificate: If the bride or groom is a widow or widower, then the deceased spouse's death certificate must be submitted.

It is important to note that the above documents may vary depending on the state where the marriage is being registered. It is advisable to check with the local Marriage Registrar's office for a complete list of documents required.

Marriage Certificate under Special Marriage Act

A marriage certificate is an official document that serves as proof of marriage under the Special Marriage Act. The Marriage Registrar's office issues it and contains details such as the date and place of marriage, names of the bride and groom, and details of witnesses.

To obtain a marriage certificate under the Special Marriage Act, the couple must apply to the Marriage Registrar's office where the marriage was registered. The application must be made within 30 days of the date of marriage, and the couple must provide proof of identity, address, date of birth, and other necessary documents.

Once the application is submitted and the documents are verified, the Marriage Registrar's office will issue the marriage certificate. The process may take up to 30 days, depending on the state where the marriage was registered.

Special Marriage Act Fees

The fees for registration of marriage under the Special Marriage Act vary by state in India. Generally, the fees are nominal and are set by the state government.

Landmark Cases on Special Marriage Act

Several Supreme Court judgments have been made on the Special Marriage Act in India. Here are some notable ones:

  1. In the case of Seema Vs Ashwani Kumar, the Supreme Court held that a marriage solemnized under the Special Marriage Act could not be declared null and void on the grounds that one of the parties was already married under a different law. The court held that the Special Marriage Act provides a separate legal framework for the solemnization and registration of marriages and that marriage registered under the Act is not affected by the existence of a prior marriage.

  2. In the case of Smt. Lata Singh Vs State of U.P., the Supreme Court held that the right to choose a life partner is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and that parents or other family members cannot interfere with the choice of a consenting adult. The court held that the Special Marriage Act provides a mechanism for couples to marry outside their caste or religion and that the Act should be liberally construed to protect the right to choose a life partner.

  3. In the case of Rani Narasimha Sastri Vs Rani Suneela Rani, the Supreme Court held that a marriage registered under the Special Marriage Act is valid even if one of the parties was a minor at the time of marriage. The court held that the Act does not require the parties to be of a certain age but only requires that they be of legal age to marry under their personal laws.

  4. In the case of Sarla Mudgal Vs Union of India, the Supreme Court held that a second marriage solemnized under the Special Marriage Act during the subsistence of the first marriage is illegal and void. The court held that the Act only permits marriage between two unmarried persons and that a marriage solemnized during the subsistence of a prior marriage is not recognized under the Act.

Online registration for Special Marriage Act

The online registration procedure for marriage under the Special Marriage Act varies by state in India. However, several states have introduced online registration portals to ease the process. Here are the general steps involved:

  1. Visit the official website of the Marriage Registrar's office in your state.

  2. Click on the link for online registration of marriage under the Special Marriage Act.

  3. Fill out the application form with all the necessary details, including personal information, date and place of marriage, and details of witnesses.

  4. Upload scanned copies of all the necessary documents, including proof of age and identity, proof of address, passport-sized photographs, affidavit, and divorce decree or death certificate, if applicable.

  5. Pay the requisite fee for the registration of marriage, which may vary by state.

  6. Submit the application form and documents online.

  7. After submission, you will receive an acknowledgement receipt with a registration number.

  8. The Marriage Registrar's office will verify the details and documents submitted and may ask for additional information or clarification if required.

  9. Once the verification process is complete, the Marriage Registrar will issue a marriage certificate under the Special Marriage Act.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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