| Year 1991 Canonical Studies, PP. 11-36
UPDATING OF THE CIVIL MARRIAGE LAWS FOR CHRISTIANS IN INDIA
(Msgr. William Nazareth)
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Marriage laws for Christians in India are outdated, the Indian Christian Marriage Act having been promulgated in 1872, and the Indian Divorce Act in 1869. Laws can never be static. Society conditions keep on changing and laws have to keep pace with such changes if they are to be in tune with the ties. Radical changes are hence required to be made in these Acts to meet the present needs of the Christian community.

Realizing the need for changes in the personal laws of Indian Christians an attempt to update these laws was made as far back as 1962, was introduced in Parliament. The Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the late Cardinal Gracias took a prominent part in the formulation of the Bill. However, it was allowed to lapse and never heard of again.

One of the reasons why the civil legislation on marriage needs to be amended is because Catholics whose marriage are dissolved by the Church or declared null and void by an Ecclesiastical tribunal find it extremely difficult to obtain a divorce or a decree of nullity from the Civil Court because of the limited grounds of divorce in the Indian Divorce Act 1869.

The Joint Women’s Programme took the initiative and with the approval of the Church of North India prepared a draft bill for Christian Marriage and Matrimonial Causes, Indian Succession Bill and Christian Adoption Bill. Thereafter the Joint Women’s Programme initiated a meeting of the representatives of the CBCI, CSI, CNI and other Churches to discuss the draft. The outcome of that meeting was the Conference held on September 12th and 13th 1989 at CNI Bhavan, New Delhi at which the representatives of the CBCI, a representative from the Law Commission and the Minorities commission, and representatives of other Christian Churches took part.

At this meeting, the drafts of the Bills on Christian Marriage and Matrimonial Causes, the Indian Succession Bill and the Christian Adoption Bill were thoroughly discussed and several changes suggested.

Some of the suggestions made were:

(a) To exempt Catholics from the purview of Chapters 4-7 of the Marriage Bill which deal with Restitution of Conjugal Rights, Judicial Separation, Nullity of Marriage and grounds for divorce.

(b) To give Catholics the freedom of conscience, i.e. to be governed by the whole Act or be exempted from the purview of Chapter 7 only which deals with Divorce- the choice to be indicated by both parties

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