The Special Marriage Act of 1954 was passed by the Indian Parliament. The Act was passed to make it easier for interfaith couples to marry in a civil ceremony. It offers Indian citizens and Indian nationals living abroad a unique type of marriage, regardless of the religion practiced by either partner. The Special Marriage Act of 1954 supersedes Act III of 1872. Act III would create a new civil marriage statute that would allow people to marry whoever they wanted. For those prepared to give up their beliefs, the legislation would legalize marriage. The purpose of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 is to provide a special form of marriage in certain circumstances, to register certain marriages, and to provide for divorce. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 only applies to Hindus, whereas the Special Marriage Act of 1954 applies to all Indians, regardless of faith. The Act covers the entire territory of India, as well as Indian nationals living in other countries. There are no rites or ceremonial requirements because the marriage performed under the Act is a civil contract.


Unlike traditional weddings, the Special Marriage Act does not need any extravagance, show, or ceremony. All that is required for a legal marriage under this Act is the consent of both parties to the marriage. If both spouses are willing to marry each other, that will suffice. The Special Marriage Act’s registration and marriage procedures are explained here. A written application must be submitted to the marriage officer in the district where one of the parties has resided for the previous 30 days. Before accepting objections to the marriage, the marriage officer gives the prospective parties 30 days’ notice. The marriage officer is required to preserve a marriage notice book if no objections are submitted.


For the marriage to be valid, both parties must consent to the marriage in front of the marriage officer and three witnesses. The bridegroom must be at least 21 years old and the bride must be at least 18 years old at the time of the wedding. This is the minimum age requirement for a boy or girl to marry in India. Both parties must be monogamous at the time of their marriage, which implies they must be single and unmarried. To be able to determine for themselves whether or not they wish to marry, both parties must be mentally fit or sane. They should not be related to each other or fall under the degree of prohibited relationship. If that’s the case, it will be grounds for dissolving the marriage. However, if the custom of any one of the parties allows for the marriage under prohibited relation such marriage may be solemnized.


The purpose of the Special Marriage Act is to cater to inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, whereby the couple is not required to renounce his/her religion to get married. The registration can also happen with them maintaining their religious identity. The act includes marriages among Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. And, it applies to every citizen in India and those living abroad, except in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. So, there is no separate court marriage for different faiths, rather it’s a uniform way of getting married irrespective of your religion.


The prohibited relationship in Schedule I and Schedule II of the Act include relationships with cousins, both paternal and maternal. Different religions are considered differently.


Under the Hindu Marriage act, marriage with second cousins is prohibited as they come under Sapindus. However, the special marriage act doesn’t prohibit such a relationship.


Furthermore, marriage between paternal and maternal cousins is permitted under personal Muslim law.


Marriage between cousins is legal under Christian personal law if the Church authorizes it.


Apart from the Guardians and Wards Act, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 is India’s only secular personal legislation. This Act intends to provide consistent marriage legislation across all boards and does not make any distinctions between citizens when it comes to the “holy union” of two persons. After the enactment of this law, which provides for a wide range of provisions aimed at completely covering all aspects of marriage that one may deem important during marriage and hurdles in the same, the concept of inter-caste and inter-religious marriages found some backing and support. It’s also vital to note that the Act differs from the Hindu Marriage Act, which is the most widely used. The Hindu Marriage Act is exclusively applicable to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, but the Special Marriage Act applies to all citizens of the country. There are also procedural variances in the laws regarding marriage solemnization and registration, as well as minor differences such as those observed in the case of Dawn Henderson v. D Henderson, 1970. In the event of a disagreement, the special legislation will take precedence over the general law, i.e. the Hindu Marriage Act will take precedence over the Special Marriage Act of 1954. Finally, the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which was deemed necessary at the time of its enactment, continues to be an important aspect of the law.

Author’s Name: Devyani Singh Jadaun (Narsee Monjee Institute of Management, Hyderabad)


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