Marriage registrar cannot withhold registration insisting on conversion approval by authorities, says Allahabad HC

The anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh per se did not prohibit interfaith marriage but the requirement of approval by the district authorities could make it tedious for such couples, it said.

The Allahabad High Court on November 18 said that the marriage registrar lacked the power to withhold the registration of marriage merely for the reason that the parties had not obtained the necessary approval of conversion from the district authority.

The court noted that the new anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh, which was brought by the Yogi Adityanath-led government last year, per se, did not prohibit interfaith marriage but the requirement of approval by the district authorities could make it tedious for such couples.

“Such an approval is directory and not mandatory. If interpreted otherwise, the Act [The Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021] would not satisfy the test of reasonableness and fairness, and would fail to pass the muster of Article 14 and Article 21,” the court said.

Justice Suneet Kumar made the observations while hearing a bunch of 17 petitions filed by inter-faith couples, who contracted marriage upon conversion, seeking protection of their life, liberty and privacy guaranteed under Article 21, to live independently as man and wife without the interference of their family or others. The petitioners apprehended threat to their life and liberty at the hands of their parents, relatives and other family members in connivance of the State machinery.

Consent of family

The High Court, while allowing the petitions, observed that the consent of the family or the community or the clan or the State or executive was not necessary, once two adult individuals agreed to enter into a wedlock which was lawful and legal. “Their consent has to be piously given primacy, with grace and dignity. The Marriage Officer/Registrar cannot refuse to register a duly solemnised marriage, and/or, insist of a conversion approval of the district authority,” the court said.

Holding that “Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which is inviolable,” Justice Kumar said, “The absolute right of an individual to choose a life partner is not in the least affected by matters of faith.”

Directive to police

The court directed the police of the respective districts to ensure the safety of the couples and provide protection to them if needed and also restrained the private and State respondents in the petitions from interfering with the life, liberty and privacy of the couples to live as man and wife.

The court directed the marriage registrar and marriage officers of respective districts to forthwith register the marriage of the couples without insisting or awaiting approval of the competent district authority with regard to conversion.

The State Government argued in court that the approval of the DM was not obtained before conversion or marriage and that marriage could not be registered without the district authority making an enquiry as to whether the conversion was voluntary and not induced by coercion, allurement and threat. The State-counsel submitted that the petitioners were not entitled to any relief from the High Court and that they should approach the competent district authority and obtain approval with regard to their conversion.

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