In a relief to those struck by COVID imposed travel bans, the Supreme Court and several High Courts have allowed couples to virtually register their marriages. The Delhi High Court on September 9 observed that "personal presence" does not necessarily mean that the person concerned must be physically present.
In allowing virtual registration of marriages, the high court orders come as a welcome respite to married couples who have been unable to register their marriages due to travel restrictions imposed because of COVID-19. The high courts of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, Kerala and Jharkhand have all allowed virtual registrations of marriage.
Considering the prevailing situation arising out of the pandemic, the Kerala government on September 9 gave its nod and laid down guidelines for online registration of marriages. Couples will now be able to register their union virtually till December 31.
However, this facility is available only in cases where the marriage registrar is convinced that the couples are unable to be physically present.
The state government was prompted into action after it received several appeals for virtual registrations amid the pandemic. Several registrars across the state have also allowed virtual registration of marriages after receiving directions for the same from the Kerala High Court.
Law has to march with technology: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on August 9 asserted that the law must march with technology while allowing a couple who married under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 to register their marriage virtually.
The bench, comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and V Ramasubramanian, had orally observed that the letter of the law cannot work in a manner that makes it impossible for people to follow through even when they want to.
"Moreover, the registration department is there to facilitate the parties and not to create obstruction or hurdles," the court further observed. "The Special Marriage Act was enacted in 1954. The technology of computers and the Internet came much later. Therefore, the law has to march along with technology," the bench had said.
In fact, looking at the challenges faced by couples affected by the pandemic, the Kerala High Court allowed a couple to marry and solemnize their marriage online. In passing the order, the Kerala high court said it would examine whether a citizen can demand digital services from their government.
The high court orders have come to the rescue for married couples living abroad. While the Delhi High Court's September 9 order came on a plea filed by an NRI couple who wanted a marriage certificate to complete the paperwork required for application of a green card; a Punjab High Court order will help reunite a husband living in the United Kingdom with his wife who lives in America.
In fact, the top court's August 9 order dismissed Haryana's appeal challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court order directing the government to comply with the directions in the order and ensure the couple got their marriage certificate within 45 days.