Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

What is Special Marriage Act, 1954?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Special Marriage Act, 1954

Mains level: Inter-faith marriage


Central idea: An actress recently held her interfaith-marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

What is the Special Marriage Act?

  • The Special Marriage Act of 1954 (SMA) was passed by the Parliament on October 9, 1954.
  • It governs a civil marriage where the state sanctions the marriage rather than the religion.
  • The minimum age to get married under the SMA is 21 years for males and 18 years for females.

Why was it enacted?

Ans. Interfaith/ Inter-caste Marriages

  • Issues of personal law such as marriage, divorce, adoption are governed by religious laws that are codified.
  • These laws, such as the Muslim Marriage Act, 1954, and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, require either spouse to convert to the religion of the other before marriage.
  • However, the SMA enables marriage between inter-faith or inter-caste couples without them giving up their religious identity or resorting to conversion.

Why is it ‘Special’?

  • Detachment from the family: Once married as per the secular law, under Section 19 of the Act, any member of an undivided family who professes the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain religion shall be deemed to affect their severance from the family.
  • Losing inherited property: This would affect rights, including the right to inheritance, of the persons choosing to marry under the SMA.

Who can get married under the Special Marriage Act?

  • The applicability of the Act extends to the people of all faiths, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, across India.
  • Some customary restrictions such as parties not being within degrees of a prohibited relationship still apply to couples under SMA.
  • In 1952, when the Bill was proposed, the requirement of monogamy was considered radical.
  • Section 4 of the SMA requires that at the time of marriage, “neither party has a spouse living” or is “incapable of giving a valid consent to it in consequence of unsoundness of mind”.

What is the procedure for a civil marriage?

  • As per Section 5 of the Act, the parties to the marriage are required to give a notice, in writing, to a “Marriage Officer” of the district in which at least one of the parties has resided for at least 30 days immediately preceding the notice.
  • Before the marriage is solemnized, the parties and three witnesses are required to sign a declaration form before the Marriage Officer.
  • Once the declaration is accepted, the parties will be given a “Certificate of marriage” which is essentially proof of the marriage.

Furore over such marriages

Ans. Religious conversion has emerged as the practical way to cohabit as a couple, in a country where neither the inter-faith, inter-caste nor the live-in couples can earn societal approval.

  • As per some Personal laws, in order to get married conversion of religion to get equalized is the only way.
  • There are cases of being allegedly lured and honey-trapped by men and those girls now seeking their help to free themselves.
  • Interfaith marriages these days are believed to be a forced conversion of the women spouses.
  • Fundamentalists’ claims that men of a particular religion are trained on the intricacies of religious doctrine to allure other religion women for marriage in an attempt to finish off her religion.


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