Special Marriages in India

Published on 08 Jun 2017 by Team

‘Marriage’ is considered a sacred institution in the Indian subcontinent.  It is an integral part of our culture. India is a diverse country and thus has people from a number of religions and cultures who call this country home. Two primary acts govern most Indian marriages: the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Special Marriage Act, 1954.

For any marriage between two Hindus, the Hindu Marriage Act applies. An Arya Samaj wedding is convenient and speedy, but applicable only to Hindus. A person from another religion must convert to Hinduism before being eligible for it (similar for example, in traditional Muslim weddings, where the Maulvi can’t solemnise the marriage if one party is not Muslim).

However, anyone can opt for the Special Marriage Act, irrespective of religion. For inter-faith marriages, couples can get legally married under the Special Marriage Act.

Putting things into Perspective

Earlier, marriages were commenced where the bride and the groom were unaware of who they were getting married to, as every decision was taken by their respective parents and meeting of bride and the groom was not a practice that prevailed (though this was in the ancient times). Times have changed and every decision relating to marriage is taken by the bride and groom themselves in this age of nuclear families and heightened individuality.

We as Indians are all mostly aware of the extent of influence that caste and religion have in our country. And when it comes to marriage, it is considered the most important criteria for a properly solemnized marriage.

Parents select the prospective bride/groom for their children from the same caste as theirs, is the general unabashed practise. Inter-caste marriage is still considered a taboo in many areas and states in our country. India still follows a very rigid structure of the caste system. People are expected to marry within their caste and whoever marries out of their caste and 'defies' the traditional barriers are shunned in the society either directly or in a hush-hush manner .

Things get extreme in certain cases where the families take inter-case/ inter-religion marriage as badge of eternal dishonour. The society has become numb to the term "honor killings" which are reported every year. Unfortunately, the families take pride in indulging in such activities.

Thus there came a grave need for a law to safeguard the interests of  those people who rose above these caste and religious divides, to marry for love. The Parliament enacted the Special Marriage Act, 1954 which provides for a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the caste and religion they follow.

Special Marriage Act, 1954 

This Act covers marriages among Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. This act applies to every state of India, except the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This Act extends not only to the Indian citizens belonging to different castes and religions but also to the Indian nationals living abroad.

The Special Marriage Act ("SMA") is not concerned with the religion of the person intending to get married. This applies to all parties who are registered under the SMA. The Act is not concerned whether the marriage took place between the people of same religion or between persons of different religion.

Besides this the Central Government also implemented Foreign Marriage Act, 1969 which empowered the citizens of India to get married abroad with an Indian citizen or a foreigner. The main feature of both these Acts is they are not concerned with the religion of the person intending to get married. This Act contains provisions to rule inter-religious marriage and for the registration of marriage. Due to these features a marriage registered under this act is known as a civil marriage.

Conditions for a valid marriage

The basic requirement for a valid marriage under this Act is the consent of both the parties to the marriage. If both the parties are ready to marry each other, that suffices it; here caste, religion, race, etc. cannot and do not act as a hindrance to their union.

  1. Any two persons belonging to different religions may marry under this Act without changing their religions.
  2. Neither party should have a spouse living at the time of marriage. Widow, widower and a divorcee may exchange wedding vows under this Act.
  3. Neither party should be incapable of giving a valid consent in consequence of unsoundness of mind.
  4. Neither party should be suffering from mental disorder of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and procreation of children.
  5.  Neither party should be suffering from incurable insanity.
  6. Parties should not be within degrees of prohibited relationship.
  7. Age: Bridegroom: 21 years &Bride: 18 years.

Procedure Of Special Marriage

  1. The procedure starts with the filing of a Notice in writing to the marriage officer of the district where either of the parties has resided for the past 30 days. (Section 5)
  2. After receiving the application the Marriage officer gives a 30 days’ notice period to accept objections on the marriage of the intended parties. (Section 7)
  3. The objections are entertained if they are solely on the conditions mentioned in Section 4.
  4. The marriage officers are required to maintain a marriage notice book which contains all the details of the intended marriage.

Objection To Marriage

Under Section 5- the parties to the marriage need give notice thereof in writing.

Section 6(2) states that the marriage officer shall publish every such notice by affixing a copy of it to some prominent place in his office.

Section 7(1) lays down that any person may before the expiry of 30 days from the date on which any notice has been published by the concerned marriage officer in accordance with Section 6(2) which states the requirement that marriage officer shall publish every such notice by affixing a copy of it to some prominent place in his office. provisions of- object to the marriage on the ground that, if this marriage is solemnized it would contravene with one or more conditions stated under Section 4 of the Act which is inter alia- 

  • Neither party has a spouse living
  • The male has completed the age of 21 years and the female the age of 18 years
  • The parties are not within the degrees of prohibited relationship within the meaning of Section 2 of the Act

This is mainly to ensure a window of natural justice. If either party concerned is already married and trying to suppress such information, then any third-party has that time to raise an objection to the marriage. If any objection at all is raised to the marriage within that period, the marriage officer will consider all aspects of the case before allowing the marriage to be solemnised.

Procedure when there is any objection to the solemnization of marriage- 

  1. The person objecting can only be on the basis of condition given in Section 4 for the solemnization of marriage.
  2. The objection is recorded in the marriage book with the person’s signature.
  3. The Marriage officer has the power to inquire about the objection.

Procedure when there is no objection

  1. If within 30 days of the notice no person objects to the marriage of the intended person the marriage can be solemnized in any form, at the office of the marriage officer or at any place in the presence of the marriage officer.
  2. The marriage officer enters all the details in the marriage notice book which should be signed by the parties and three witnesses.
  3. The above procedure should be in the presence of the marriage office

Procedure for other nationalities

An Indian national can get married to a foreigner under this Act, and two foreign nationals can also get married under the same: provided there is an official No Objection Certificate from the foreign embassy concerned, declaring that the foreigner is not barred in any way from marrying in another country.

How to apply

The application form or ‘notice of the intended marriage’ must be filled up (available online or at the marriage office) and submitted along with necessary documents. A date for the solemnisation of marriage is then set for a month after. On that date, three witnesses are required plus basic identification documents to finally solemnise the marriage. After that, the couple may apply to have their marriage registered and get an official certificate from the registrar.

Documents needed

Along with the ‘notice of the intended marriage, you will need the following documents: 
1.Notarised affidavit declaring that you’ve met all the conditions (your age, that you do not already have a spouse etc)
2. Residence, DOB & ID proof
3. Passport size photographs
4. Rs 150 processing fee

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