Friday, January 16, 2009

Registration of Marriages

Marriage is a social institution inviting a man and a woman in special forms of mutual dependence, often for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family. In other words, marriage is the silken tie of love and esteem between two persons usually not related by blood. It is the oldest way of getting a man and woman together to live life in a society and have the closest-ever relations with each other, bound only by love and confidence which have no limits and cannot be broken unless there is a loss of mutual trust and understanding. It is a common belief that marriages are settled in heaven and as such a matter of chance which are performed at the earth and brings two souls together in an eternal knot.
Law Commission’s Report
Recently, the Law Commission, its 211th report, has recommended the enactment of uniform legislation on the compulsory registration of marriages and divorce and its strict enforcement in all the States and Union Territories. The Union Government should see the merit in the report and take suitable measures to amend the law. Admittedly, in the absence of a uniform law throughout the country, the intended measure, which was originally suggested by the Supreme Court, has not been pursued.
The Law Commission has rightly suggested that while Parliament should take the initiative to enact a uniform law for the entire country, States, on its part, should formulate rules and regulations. The uniform law will help check bigamy and polygamy and child marriages too. It will prevent marriages without the consent of parties and enable women to claim, despite separation, their right to continue living in the house and seek maintenance from husbands. Moreover, it will also help poor families most, giving them social security.
Supreme Court’s Ruling
In an effort to make the registration of marriages in the country compulsory, the Supreme Court had directed all the States to frame rules for this, irrespective of the couple’s religion. The States had erred in framing the law to make the marriage registration compulsory because it was binding on Hindus only.
The States had issued notification under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), and, therefore, it was not mandatory for the people belonging to other religions to get their marriages registered. The apex court further directed the States to explain the reasons why they had not made the law binding on non-Hindus as well.
Besides, the Supreme Court also granted last chance to five States (Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand) that have failed to comply with the apex court’s orders to formulate a law on making marriage registration compulsory.
The Supreme Court agreed with the National Commission for Women (NCW) that compulsory registration of marriages would be of critical importance to various women-related issues such as prevention of child marriage and ensuring a minimum age of marriages; prevention of marriages without the consent of parties; checking illegal /bigamy /polygamy; enabling married women to claim their right to live in the matrimonial home, seek maintenance, etc.
What is Needed?
People must understand that registration of a religious marriage will not turn it into a civil marriage—for registering civil marriages there already are in force two separate laws, Special Marriage Act, 1954 and Foreign Marriage Act, 1969. The required new law would only be for marriages solemnised by religious or customary rites and if used, would not in any case alter the character of any marriage. In other words, registration will be absolutely without prejudice to substantive aspects of marriages—including their validity, solemnised and dissolution—all of which will continue to be governed by the respective personal laws. Registration will not, therefore, come in conflict with any religious law.

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