The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a public interest litigation challenging provisions of the Special Marriage Act that mandate publishing the personal information of inter-faith couples before their wedding, Live Law reported.
Sections 6 and 7 of the law require the couples to display a public notice in a conspicuous place or the notice board in the office of a marriage officer for 30 days prior to their marriage to invite or entertain objections. The details of the notice include their names, phone numbers, date of birth, age, occupation, addresses and identity information.
A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Bela M Trivedi dismissed the plea challenging these two provisions of the Act along with sections allowing anyone to submit objections to the marriage and the authority of the marriage officer to conduct an inquiry into a couple’s antecedents.
“Challenging the constitutional validity in this petition is abstract,” the Supreme Court said. “See, you are not an aggrieved person. We are trying to understand, if we take up this constitutional validity at your instance and pronounce on it that it is valid against you, would that bind everybody? Where is the genuine litigant who has got a grievance against these provisions?”
The petitioner’s lawyer told the court that his client had married a man from another religion under the Special Marriage Act. “If it is your personal cause, it ceases to be a PIL,” the bench responded.
The court also noted that the Act had come into effect in 1954, according to Bar and Bench. “Where’s your cause of action?” it asked the lawyer as it dismissed the PIL.
In the PIL, the petitioner argued that the Special Marriage Act violates the fundamental right to privacy.
“The petition seeks to commiserate the marriage laws to one that is more in tune with just decisional autonomy of two individuals and less to do with social sanction of their marriage,” it said.
The plea also said that marriage is a private decision of two consenting adults and the Special Marriage Act was “formulated to provide a secular form of marriage”.
With the publication of personal details, the targeting of interfaith couples has escalated in the last few years, Newslaundry has reported. Hindutva groups described such relationships as “love jihad” – a debunked idea that Muslim men romantically lure Hindu women to have them converted to Islam.
“Publication of personal details often might have a chilling effect on the right to marry,” the petitioner argued. “In other words, couples are asked to waive the right to privacy to exercise the right to marry.”
Significantly, the Allahabad High Court had said in January 2021 that compulsory publication of such notices would interfere with the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy.