Report No. 211
Registration of Civil Marriages
A. Old Special Marriage Act 1872
The first law of civil marriages of India was the Special Marriage Act 1872. It was enacted on the recommendation of the First Law Commission set up during the British rule. Mainly meant to facilitate inter-religious marriages, initially it could be availed only by those who did not claim to profess any of the established religions. Later, by an amendment effected in 1923 it was made available - as an alternative to personal law - also to marriages both parties to which belonged to the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh religious faiths.
Under this Act the processes of solemnization and registration of marriage were combined into the same transaction. Marriage Registrars, independent or ex officio, were to be appointed under its provisions by the Local Government for various territories under its administration (Section 3); and they would play the key role in the solemnization of marriages under the Act.
The process would begin with a notice of the intended marriage to be given to the Marriage Registrar in the prescribed form, and end with its solemnization in his presence (Sections 4, 12). After solemnization of a marriage, the Marriage Registrar would "enter a certificate thereof" in the prescribed form in his Marriage Certificate Book, signed by the parties and three witnesses (Section 13).
Every Marriage Registrar acting under the Act was required to send, at prescribed intervals, certified true copies of all entries in his Marriage Certificate Book to the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages of the region (Section 13-A). The Marriage Certificate Book would "at all reasonable times be open for inspection and shall be admissible as evidence of the truth of the statements therein contained" and its copies would be provided to the applicants (Section 14).
The Special Marriage Act 1872 remained in force until after independence and was eventually repealed by and replaced with the new Special Marriage Act 1954. Its provisions on solemnization-cum-registration of marriages were, however, more or less retained under the new Act.