Special Marriages Act, 1954 (SMA) is the legislation that is used to register inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India. It allows two individuals to solemnise their marriage through a civil contract. There are no religious formalities that need to be carried out under the Act. In a country where caste and religion continue to play an integral role in marriages, SMA allows for an alternative way.
Here are seven things you must know about this Act.
1. You Do Not have to Change Your Religion
The parties getting married under SMA come from different faiths. None of the parties is required to change their religion for the purposes of marriage. Even after their marriage is registered they continue to belong to the religion that was assigned by their birth families or that they converted to. SMA is also used for solemnising inter-caste marriages. The parties entering into marriage do not have to change their caste. They continue to belong to the caste they were born into, even after marriage. Marrying someone of a different caste does not mean the caste has to be changed or given up.
2. You Can Inherit Your Ancestral Property
Since caste and religions remain unchanged, the rights to ancestral property are intact as well. The succession of property happens through personal laws, that are governed by religions of individuals. Hence, the rights of inheritance and succession as guaranteed by the particular religion continue to exists despite marrying outside the religious fold. Hence, if a Hindu woman marries a Christian man, she will continue to have rights to her family’s ancestral property as guaranteed under the Hindu Succession Act, 2005.
3. Sever Ties from Hindu Undivided Family
Hindu Undivided Family is a legal unit through which Hindu joint families are constituted. If a Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain marries under SMA to a person of another religion or caste, they no longer belong to the unit if Hindu Undivided Family. Post marriage they are legally severed from undivided family. This is stated in Section 19. However, for the purpose of succession of ancestral property they continue to have the same rights.
4. Issue of Notice for Marriage
The individuals who intend to marry must give notice in writing to the Marriage Officer in District. The notice is a written declaration of the intention to marry. The notice will be displayed, along with the personal information of the parties. The marriage notice is open for inspection by a third party. The marriage officer is obligated to show the notice of marriage if so demanded.
5. Succession Rights Under SMA
The parties married under SMA continue to retain their individual religions and caste. However, for the purposes of succession of their children, they are governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925. So the property that is acquired by the married party is devolved to their children via the secular law of succession which is the India Succession Act.
6. Legitimacy of Children
Section 26 grants legitimacy to children who are born to individuals who married under the SMA. They continue to have rights on the property even after the said marriage has been nullified. The children from such marriage cannot claim for the ancestral property. They can only acquire a share in their parents’ self acquired or inherited property.
7. Grounds for Divorce
Section 27 lays down the various grounds for divorce. The grounds include adultery, cruelty, unsound mind among others. The clause of divorce under SMA applies to only those parties who have been married under this Act. The parties also have the option to apply for a divorce by mutual consent.
Why It Matters?
SMA is an important marriage legislation because it allows for civil partnerships. In an era where marriage continues to be governed by religion and caste, a statute that SMA challenges the norm. It allows us to re-imagine how two people can be together without the hindrance of religion or caste formalities.