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Special Marriage Act (SMA) 1954


The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s recent decision regarding the marriage of a Muslim man and a Hindu woman, registered under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), has attracted significant attention. The court dismissed the couple’s petition for protection and assistance in registering their marriage, citing incompatibility with personal laws. A ‘registered marriage’ under the SMA is a civil marriage, solemnized in a registrar’s office without religious rituals.


GS-II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Recent Judgement of the MP High Court?
  2. About Special Marriage Act, 1954
  3. Applicability of the Act
  4. The Section of SMA which is being contested

What is the Recent Judgement of the MP High Court?

  • The petitioners contended that they intended to marry under the Special Marriage Act, making the Islamic Nikah ceremony redundant, and wished to retain their respective religions without the Hindu petitioner converting to Islam.
  • However, the High Court noted that according to Mahomedan law, the marriage between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman is invalid. Even if such a marriage is registered under the Special Marriage Act, it remains considered irregular.
  • The court emphasized that personal laws take precedence over the Special Marriage Act in this matter and thus dismissed the couple’s petition.

About Special Marriage Act, 1954

  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to provide a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party.
  • Marriages solemnized under Special Marriage Act are not governed by personal laws.

The Act has 3 major objectives:

  • to provide a special form of marriage in certain cases,
  • to provide for registration of certain marriages and,
  • to provide for divorce.
Applicability of the Act
  • Any person, irrespective of religion.
  • Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, or Jews can also perform marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
  • Inter-religion marriages are performed under this Act.
  • This Act is applicable to the entire territory of India and extends to intending spouses who are both Indian nationals living abroad.
  • Indian national living abroad.
Succession to the property
  • Succession to the property of person married under this Act or customary marriage registered under this Act and that of their children, are governed by Indian Succession Act.
  • However, if the parties to the marriage are Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain religion, the succession to their property will be governed by Hindu succession Act.
  • The Hindu Marriage Act is pertinent to Hindus, though the Special Marriage Act is appropriate to all residents of India regardless of their religion applicable at Court marriage.
The Section of SMA which is being contested
  • Under Sections 5 and 6 of the SMA, the parties wishing to marry are supposed to give a notice for their marriage to the Marriage Officer in an area where one of the spouses has been living for the last 30 days. Then, the marriage officer publishes the notice of marriage in his office.
  • Anyone having any objection to the marriage can file against it within a period of 30 days. If any such objection against the marriage is sustained by the marriage officer, the marriage can be rejected.
Differentiation from Personal Laws:
  • Personal laws, such as the Muslim Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act, require religious conversion of either spouse before marriage.
  • The Special Marriage Act allows inter-faith or inter-caste marriages without conversion.
  • However, individuals married under the SMA lose certain rights, such as inheritance rights.
Issues Related to SMA:
  • Couples can face objections and harassment in the process of getting married under the SMA.
  • In January 2021, the Allahabad HC ruled that couples can choose not to publish the mandatory 30-day notice of their intention to marry to avoid delays and harassment.
  • The requirement for publication of notices can be a violation of privacy as it discloses personal information about the couple.
  • Inter-caste or inter-religious marriages are still stigmatized in many parts of India, and couples who marry under the SMA may face discrimination from their families and communities.

-Source: Indian Express

June 2024