HC Ruling on Special Marriage Act – UPSC GS1

HC Order Summary: Interfaith couples now have the option to not give public notice under Special Marriage Act as earlier required.
Provision under Special Marriage Act:
  • Under section 5 of the special marriage act, interfaith couple had to give notice to the marriage officer 30 days in advance and the officer had to publicise it and call for objections under sections 6 and 7 of the act.
HC Order:
  • The Allahabad High Court ordered that those people marrying under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, can choose not to publicize their union with a 30 days advance notice.
  • The marriage officer can make the marriage official if a couple gives it in writing that they do not want the notice publicised.
  • The Act’s understanding and interpretation should be in a way that upholds fundamental rights and not violate them.
  • Laws should not invade liberty and privacy, “including within its sphere freedom to choose for marriage without interference from state and non-state actors, of the persons concerned”.
How would it impact the present anti-conversion ordinances?
  • Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, intends to target inter-faith marriages.
  • The new ordinance states conversion of religion for marriage to be unlawful. It orders a 60-day notice to the District Magistrate and also requires the Magistrate to conduct a police inquiry to find out the categorical reason for the conversion of religion.
  • The law was enacted in November 2020, since then there have been 54 arrests by the U.P. police. 
  • The HC ruling can now be quoted all over India to prevent public notices under the Special Marriage Act.
Way forward
Inter-faith couples will hope that when the Supreme Court hears appeals on the U.P. conversion law, it will take inspiration from progressive verdicts, like the 2017 Aadhaar ruling, on the right to privacy as a basic right, and the 2018 judgment on Hadiya, upholding the student’s right to choose a partner, a Muslim man in Kerala, as essential freedom.