COUPLES RIGHTS UNDER ARTICLE 21 (Syllabus: GS Paper 2 – Polity)

News-CRUX-10     14th May 2024        

Context: The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court recently ruled that a Muslim cannot assert rights in a live-in relationship if they already have a living spouse.

Background of the Issue 

  • The couple claimed protection under Article 21 for their live-in relationship, but the court ruled against it, citing Islamic tenets.
  • The judges emphasized that while constitutional morality may protect such couples in certain cases, it wouldn't automatically support their rights under Article 21.
  • The court differentiated between unmarried couples and those already in a subsisting marriage, denying protection under Article 21 to the latter.

Legal Provisions in Relation to Live in Relationships

  • Article 21 of the Constitution: Guarantees the right to life and personal liberty.
  • Lata Singh v. State of UP (2006): Supreme Court ruled that cohabitation of two individuals of opposite sex is not illegal.
  • Velusamy v. D Patchaimal (2010): Supreme Court established criteria for legal recognition of live-in relationships:

oCouples must present themselves to society as akin to spouses.

oBoth individuals must be of legal marriage age and unmarried.

oThey must be otherwise qualified for marriage.

oThey must have cohabited and held themselves as spouses for a significant period.

  • Article 19: It affirms every citizen's right to reside and settle anywhere within India's territory. Therefore, individuals, regardless of marital status, cannot be refused accommodation if they choose to live together as adults.

Legal Status of Live-in Relationships in India

  • Absence of Specific Laws: India lacks laws directly addressing live-in partnerships, leaving them unregulated by legislation.
  • Judicial Perspective: The Supreme Court recognizes the right to life includes the freedom for unmarried couples to cohabit without facing legal repercussions.
  • Court Rulings: Courts presume cohabiting couples, even without formal marriage, as legally bound in long-term relationships. 

oIn cases like Payal Sharma versus Nari Niketan, the judiciary distinguishes between societal morality and legal validity, affirming the legality of live-in relationships.

  • Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation (1978): It underscores the legality of live-in relationships, subject to conditions like age, consent, and mental capacity.
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