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What is the legal status and procedures to marry a person from another religion in India?

Q. Without conversion, is it permissible for a Christian male to solemnize marriage with Hindu female? Please explain the law governing such marriage and the procedure to be followed?

Article 25 of the Constitution of India gives us the right to freedom of religion as a fundamental right. Under Special Marriage Act 1954 a marriage between a Hindu and Christian is valid. Conversion is not a must to any of the parties to marriage under this Act. Section 4 of this Act state the condition to marriage is that the parties who are getting married should not have any spouse living, or they are incapable of giving any valid consent because of unsound mind, or has some mental disorder, or is insane. The man should have completed 21 years of age and woman should be 18 years, and not within the degrees of prohibited relationship but where one party’s custom permits such marriage can be solemnised.

When a couple intends to marry under this Act the parties should give notice in writing to Marriage Officer. Marriage officer shall keep notices in his office in the Marriage Notice Book which can be inspected at all times without fees.  If anyone objects to such marriage they should do so within 30 days from the date of the notice published.  Marriage officer will inquire into the matter of objection and so marriage cannot be solemnised until objections are withdrawn.

Three witnesses will sign the declaration before marriage is solemnised. Marriage can happen in Marriage office or any other place as the parties may desire by paying additional fees.  When marriage is solemnised a certificate is signed by parties to marriage and 3 witnesses and such certificate is kept by Marriage officer.

If marriage is not solemnised within 3 months’ notice has to be given to Marriage officer.  When a certificate of marriage has been entered in Marriage Certificate Book, marriage is deemed to have solemnised under this Act. All persons who are married under this Act have same rights with regard to right of succession. Justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra held that inter-caste marriages are good in the interest of nation and will remove caste system in India which can be considered as a curse to the nation.

We can note the words of Dr. Ambedkar here “Make every man and woman free from the thraldom of the Shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions founded on the Shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.” So we can say that Special Marriage Act was formed in a way to eradicate the caste/religious bias for marriage that exist in the country.

by Sushma Javare.