SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT, 1954 (Syllabus: GS Paper 2 – Polity)

News-CRUX-10     17th June 2024        

Context: A problematic order from the Madhya Pradesh High Court has given rise to the likelihood of a misinterpretation of the law around inter-faith marriages and a calling into question the scope of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

Special Marriage Act, 1954

  • About: It is an Indian law that establishes a legal framework for marriages between individuals of diverse religions or castes.
  • It lays down the procedure for both solemnization and registration of marriage, where either of the husband or wife or both are not Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, or Sikhs.
  • Written Notice: According to this Act, the couples have to serve a notice with the relevant documents to the Marriage Officer 30 days before the intended date of the marriage.
  • Civil Regulation: It primarily regulates civil marriages, with the state's endorsement rather than religious institutions.
  • Age Limit: The minimum age to get married under the SMA is 21 years for males and 18 years for females.
  • Parallel with UK Law: In India, the legal recognition of both civil and religious marriages mirrors the provisions of the UK's Marriage Act of 1949.
  • Applicability: The Act is applicable to individuals of all faiths, encompassing Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, and Buddhists, throughout India.
  • Prohibition of Polygamy: It forbids polygamy and 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 valid consent to the marriage due to unsoundness of mind.
  • Succession Rights: Section 26 deals with succession under the SMA, recognising the validity of children born to people married under the SMA.

oMohammed Salim vs Shamsudeen (2019): It dealt with the issue of property succession arising out of a marriage between a Muslim man and Hindu woman under the Mohammedan Laws. This judgment should never have been considered as a precedent in either deciding the validity of an inter-faith marriage or for police protection.

  • Property Rights: Offspring of such marriages are not entitled to ancestral property but can obtain a share of their parents’ self-owned or inherited property.

Differentiation from Personal Laws

  • Conversion Requirements: 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.
  • Retention of Religious Identity: The SMA enables marriage between inter-faith or inter-caste couples without them giving up their religious identity or resorting to conversion.
  • Impact on Family Rights: Once married as per the SMA, an individual is deemed severed from the family in terms of rights like the right to inheritance.