Opinion split over judge’s order that unmarried couples in a sexual relationship be considered ‘husband and wife’
The High Court ruling on Monday, that an unmarried couple in a sexual relationship can be considered ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, drew varied reactions from Chennai residents, with some calling it conservative and others hailing the order as progressive.
Former IAS officer and writer P. Sivakami welcomed Justice C.S. Karnan’s order, saying: “Premarital sex is not a casual affair in India. When a woman gives her consent to have sex, she believes in the corner of her mind that the relationship will culminate in marriage. The judgement will curtail the attitude of the men who take women for granted and coax them to have sex and leave them in the lurch,” she said.
But sexual relationship alone cannot make a man and woman husband and wife, said lyricist Vairamuthu. “There are men and women who have sexual relationships without getting married and there are married couples who abstain from sex,” he said.
According to him, a photograph of a couple exchanging garlands or a registration certificate is necessary because in the absence of documentary evidence, no sexual relationship can be described as marriage.
Noted Tamil writer Jayamohan called it is a conservative ruling, since it has taken into consideration only the sufferings of women and not men, especially at a time when premarital sex is very common among the economically independent. “The judgment is right in the sense that the object of all our laws is to protect the interest of the women,” he said.
Lawyers hailed Justice Karnan’s order as progressive. “The very essence of marriage is to solemnise a relationship. The outcome of a (sexual) relationship is often more detrimental to the woman. A man cannot run away from his actions or inaction, but has to be responsible for it,” said lawyer and mridangam artist K.S.R. Anirudh.
Activist-lawyer S. Nagasaila agreed. “The issue is about the responsibility of a man and not about imposing a relationship. In the Hindu Marriage Act, a marriage is recognised even if there is no proof. You cannot look at it from the springboard of personal laws,” she said.
D. Narayana Reddy, a leading expert in sexual medicine, said, “If this ruling is accepted, it will be the second or third marriage for many. And what about commercial sex, when there is consensus between the man and the woman? Can we call that a marriage?”
Writer and social commentator Gnani, however, called it a landmark ruling because it extended legal recognition to live-in relationships. “(But) if two people living together break up, then documentary proof of consummation of ‘the marriage’ would be a problem. The ruling opens up the need for a debate on such relationships and the need to define the rights and responsibilities of the partners,” he said.
(Inputs from B. Kolappan, R. Sujatha, Deepa H. Ramakrishnan and Serena Josephine M.)