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Report No. 227

Chapter IV

Bigamy under Community-Specific Legislation

Christian Marriage Act 1872

As is well known, the Christian religion prohibits bigamy. In India Christian marriages are governed by an old Act of the British period - the Christian Marriage Act 1872. It applies to all sorts of marriages among the Christians of India and requires them to be solemnized under its provisions not only when both parties are Christian but also when one of them is a Christian and the other a non-Christian (see Section 4 of the Act).

Marriages can, under this Act, be either solemnized by a 'Minister of Religion' of a Church, or by or in the presence of a Marriage Registrar.

In the first case, the notice to be given for marriage by either party is to be accompanied by a declaration of the parties' marital status at the time of marriage, and the prescribed form for this purpose mentions only two possibilities - the person giving a notice may be either a bachelor/spinster or widower/widow.

A certificate of compliance with the notice requirement is to be issued upon the applicant filing a declaration affirming that "he or she believes that there is not any impediment of kindred or affinity or other lawful hindrance, to the said marriage;" and the marriage shall be solemnized only after such a certificate has been issued (Sections 12, 18, 25 & Schedule I).

For obtaining a certificate in the case of a marriage solemnized by or in the presence of a Marriage Registrar, instead of filing a written declaration the person giving the notice has to take an oath to the same effect 20- that "he or she believes that there is not any impediment of kindred or affinity or other lawful hindrance, to the said marriage" (Sections 41-42).

The marriage of a native Christian can be certified without the preliminary notice mentioned above subject to the condition,inter alia, that "neither of the persons intending to be married shall have a wife or husband still living"(Section 60).

The Act provides that a person making a false oath or declaration or signing a false notice, intentionally and for the purpose of procuring a marriage, shall be guilty of the offence punishable under Section 193 of the Indian Penal Code - Section 66.

There is no specific reference in this Act to the anti-bigamy provisions contained in Sections 494-495 of the Indian Penal Code. Since bigamy is strictly prohibited by the Christian religious law and the Act also impliedly prohibits it, applicability of the said IPC provisions to married Christians may be seen as a foregone conclusion. Yet, there is a case for making the Act specific on this point.

A post-marriage change of religion by either spouse may have no effect on prohibition of bigamy under the Christian law since both the Christian Marriage Act 1872 and its divorce supplement, the Indian Divorce Act 1869, apply also to cases where only one spouse is a Christian.

Preventing Bigamy via Conversion to Islam - A Proposal for giving statutory effect to Supreme Court Rulings Back

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