A secular marriage law that makes accessible to all and sundry the personal details, including mobile phone numbers, of adults who want to enter wedlock has come under challenge in the Supreme Court.
The Special Marriage Act is intended to help consenting adults, especially those who belong to different religions or castes, to marry. But certain provisions of the Act, like Section 6, require the intimate details of the couple to be published for 30 days at the Marriage Registrar's office.
The details include their names, date of birth, age, occupation, parents’ names and details, address, pin code, identity information, phone number, etc. This is a peculiar requirement of the Act.
The provisions in the Act allow anyone to submit objections to the marriage if they come to know of it through this public notice. The Marriage Officer is empowered to inquire into these objections.
Law student Nandini Praveen, represented by advocates Kaleeswaram Raj and Nishe Rajen Shonker, said the publication of private details was a violation of the privacy of couples.
Publication of confidential details through a public notice had a chilling effect on the right to marry, particularly in the backdrop of honour killings and violence committed against those who entered inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.
“In other words, couples are asked to waive the right to privacy to exercise the right to marry. This infringes the rights of autonomy, dignity and the right to marry, of various couples”, Ms. Praveen argued in her petition.
She submitted that marriage is “a private decision taken by two consenting adults and the Special Marriage Act was formulated to provide a secular form of marriage”.
The petition said, “By making the personal details of the couple accessible to everyone, the very right of the couple to be the decision-makers of their marriage is being hampered by the State”.
It argued that the requirement of notice before marriage was absent in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and in the customary laws of Islam. Hence, the provision is discriminatory and violative of the right to equality.