The recent Madras High court verdict on the legal status of a couple without formal marriage, by Justice Sri Kannan attracted much attention. The case started when a woman who conceived two children from a person without legally marrying him was abandoned by him. She filed petition in the family Court to get maintenance from the person. The Court had ordered him to pay Rs 500 per month for looking after the children while denying maintenance for her on the ground that there were no documents to prove their marriage. The woman filed appeal in the High Court and it was on that petition the ground-breaking judgement came out, setting aside the family court verdict.
The judge gave their relationship to a marital status in the judgement on the premises that they had lived like man and wife and had even had signed in the birth certificate of their child and in some other hospital document. The spectacular part of the judgement was that it gave more importance to the legal aspects of the live-in relationship than to the ritual part of a marriage like exchanging garlands and rings in front of a crowd.
The judgement created some flutter among the general public and in social net-work sites saying that it encroaches upon the sanctity of marriage while equating sexual relation with marriage and some others protested against giving a new status and meaning to the sexual intercourse. But the protests were without fully understanding the verdict. They missed the humane aspect of the verdict.
The live-in relationships are on the increase now and to bring them within the ambit of law akin to marriage the Supreme Court had stipulated the presence of some required elements in such relations. 1. The couples should hold out themselves before the public while in relationship 2 they must be at the legal age and qualified otherwise to get married. And 3 they must have voluntarily co habited and held out before the public as couples for a period of time.
In the Madras High Court verdict all the stipulations have been answered and additionally extend a helping hand for a poor woman who would have left unprotected if the verdict was against her.
It raises the question of the legal status of sexual intercourse I think the Courts have not bothered to look into it singularly and at present it is not illegal to have consensual sex for adults. However the story might turn different if the woman gets pregnant and approaches Court for justice. Then a single intercourse would be enough to get them marital status whether the person like it or not.