The Punjab and Haryana High Court has said that there is no difference between a married couple and one in a live-in relationship, except that the latter is not “universally accepted”, Bar and Bench reported on Thursday. The court said that the right to life and liberty enshrined in the Constitution gives individuals the right to “full development of their potential” and they were entitled to choose a partner of their choice for that purpose.

“The individual also has the right to formalise the relationship with the partner through marriage or to adopt the non-formal approach of a live-in relationship,” a single-judge bench of Justice Sudhir Mittal said on Tuesday while hearing a petition filed by a couple seeking protection for staying in a live-in relationship.

The couple had approached the High Court after a representation submitted to the police on the matter on May 9 yielded no response. In the petition, the couple contended that their family members were against the relationship and threatening physical harm.

While directing the police to provide protection to the couple, the court drew a parallel between live-in relationships and those who get married against the wish of their families, Live Law reported.

“The constitutional courts grant protection to couples who have married against the wishes of their respective parents,” Mittal said. “An identical situation exists where the couple has entered into a live-in-relationship. The only difference is that the relationship is not universally accepted. Would that make any difference?”

Noting that live-in relationships are not prohibited by the law and do not amount to any offence, the court said that individuals involved in such arrangements are entitled to equal protection of laws as any other citizen of the country. The court also noted that acceptance of live-in relationships was on the rise and that the concept had percolated even into small towns and villages.

The verdict also held significance as a separate bench of the same High Court had on May 11 held that live-in relationships were “morally and socially unacceptable”. In another judgement the very next day, the court had turned down the plea of a couple seeking similar relief, after deciding that it would “disturb the social fabric of the society”, Bar and Bench reported.