Like every other marriage laws in India, the Christian Marriage and Divorce laws are to consolidate the solemnization and dissolution of marriages.
But why these laws are so controversial and ambiguous, and why there is a need for the Christian Marriage Bill, 2000 to come into existence? In parts, the draft Christian Marriage Bill 2000 is a legislation Indian Christians have been waiting for the past 38 years.
The Christian Marriage Bill was introduced in 2000 and is still waiting to be passed by the Parliament. The Bill’s provision, unlike the Indian Divorce Act, 1872 is free from gender-bias. If we look into the Section 10 (which provide grounds for the dissolution of marriage) of the Divorce Act, Clause 1 of the Section provides that –
(1) Any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of the Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act, 2001, may , on a petition presented to the District Court either by the husband or the wife, be dissolved on the ground that since the solemnization of the marriage, the respondent –
(i) has committed adultery, or,
Now, when a husband applies for petition for dissolution of marriage, he just needs to prove that his wife is guilty of adultery. But when a wife applies for petition for the dissolution of marriage, she needs to prove that her husband has exchanged his profession of Christianity for the profession of some other religion, and has gone through a form of marriage with another woman,
Or has been guilty of incestuous adultery,
Or of bigamy with adultery,
Or of marriage with another woman with adultery,
Or of rape, sodomy or bestiality,
Or of adultery coupled with such cruelty as without adultery would have entitled her to a divorce a mensa et toro,
Or of adultery coupled with desertion, without reasonable excuse for two years or upwards
It means that whenever a woman wants to seek a dissolving her marriage, she will need to prove two guilt of her husband in which offence of adultery is mandatory. The Christian Marriage Bill, 2000 was made to eliminate this discrimination and gender-biasness and to give equal rights to women in matters relating to divorce.
Still, the Bill is pending due to one of the controversial reason, that is, the Bill defines a Christian marriage as only one between two Christians. Unlike other marriage laws in India, the unique feature of the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 is that it permits the marriage where either both the parties to the marriage are Christian, or either of the parties is a Christian. Thus, it grants marriage between a Christian and a Non-Christian. If we look into Part I of the Indian Christian Marriage Act of 1872, Section 4 of this Act states that –
4. Every marriage between persons, one or both of whom is or are a Christian, or Christians, shall be solemnized in accordance with the provisions of the next following section;and any such marriage solemnized otherwise than in accordance with such provisions shall be void.
The Indian Christian Marriage is looked at from two points of view, viz., the Law of the Land and the Canon Law. In Titli, Mt. v. Alfred Robert Jones, AIR 1934 All. 273,it was observed that a mixed marriage celebrated by the Catholic Church otherwise valid is not invalidated for the want of banns. But in Kochan Nadar v. Rayappan Nadar, AIR 1955 Trav.-Co. 182, it was held that a marriage according to Christian rites alone would be valid when both the parties are Roman Catholic Christians.
Now, the Christian Marriage Bill, 2000 doesn’t comply with the existing definition of the Christian marriage which in provided by the Section of the Act of 1872. The Bill says that for the solemnization of a Christian marriage, both of the parties to marriage should be Christians only. This point has become so controversial that it’s difficult for the Christian Marriage Bill, 2000 to come into existence.
On one hand, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI), All-India Catholic Union, and even the Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) that took part in updating the Christian law have opposed the Bill and raised objection to this new definition of Christian marriage. These communities want to uphold the existing definition of marriage, which is a marriage between persons “one or both of whom” are Christians and thus recognizing the union of Christian with a Non-Christian as a Christian marriage. In this regard, the Archbishop of Delhi and CBCI President had said that “It (marrying non-Christians in the Church) is a privilege that should not be taken away. On the other hand, people like Former Union Law Minister and Learned Advocate Late Ram Jethmalani favoured the Bill and opposed the definition of Christian marriage mentioned in the Act of 1872. He quoted “It [the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872] is not a law for mixed marriages”. And apart from all the opinions and suggestions, the current Law minister is willing to consider all the “minor” amendments but doesn’t want to nudge on the definition of Christian marriage. In a nutshell, if this Bill came into existence the issue related to dissolution of marriage for Christian women would have dissolved and the Act would have been gender-just. But now this Bill has become so political and controversial that it’s hard for it so see the Light of Day.
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