The Centre told the Delhi High Court that the procedures and conditions laid down under the Special Marriage Act, including the 30-day notice for solemnisation of a marriage, are “fair and reasonable”, PTI reported on Wednesday. It submitted that the conditions laid down are “in consonance with the intention behind the Act”.

The submission was made by the Ministry of Law and Justice in an affidavit filed in response to an interfaith couple’s plea challenging the provision under the Act of issuing a public notice to invite objections to a marriage.

A section of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, requires an interfaith couple to give written notice of the marriage to the district marriage officer. This publicly published notice provides for a subsequent hearing on objections to the marriage.

The interfaith couple has urged the court to declare as “illegal, null, void and unconstitutional” the provisions of the Act which lay down this procedure. The plea said the 30-day notice period not just discourage couples like them to get married, but it also directly impinged on their fundamental rights.

The Centre, however, contended that fundamental rights are not absolute and reasonable restrictions can be imposed on them.

The ministry, in its reply before a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, stated that the intention behind the Act “is to keep adequate safeguards” with regard to the interest of the various parties involved.

“If any person raises objection to the said marriage [under the Act] within a period of 30 days, the marriage officer shall not solemnise the marriage until he enquires into the matter of objection,” the Centre’s affidavit added. “It may not be possible to verify the credibility of such a person if at least thirty days period is not given as mentioned in section 7 of the Act.”

In their petition, the couple has said that some objections, like unsoundness of mind of either party or they not having attained the age of marriage, that can be raised under section 4 of the Act “can be ascertained on the basis of certificates issued from a government hospital or any prescribed authority”.

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The petition also said that the issue of whether either party has a living spouse, which can be raised as an objection under the Act, is not a condition imposed on same faith marriages. Therefore, imposing it on inter-faith marriages is due to a bias against such relationships, it said.

Based on these arguments, the plea sought a direction to the Centre and the Delhi government to decide the objections under the Act on the basis of an undertaking and certificates issued by a government hospital or any other authority.

Notably, in an important judgement on January 13, the Allahabad High Court has held that publishing a notice and inviting objections before a couple decides to marry under the Special Marriage Act are no longer mandatory. The court observed that these rules went against fundamental rights and infringed upon one’s ability to choose to marry without intervention.

The judgement assumes significance in the backdrop of the Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh bringing an ordinance that targets interfaith marriages under the garb of forced conversions as espoused in the Hindutva conspiracy theory of “love jihad”.