The Supreme Court last week made yet another significant ruling on live-in relationships. Where earlier it had upheld the validity of such relationships as well as pre-marital sex, on Thursday it followed up and ruled on the rights of women in a live-in relationship. In this sense, there is continuity in the Supreme Court’s rulings.
The apex court should be applauded for proceeding to place fresh legal markers that acknowledge contemporary social reality. This is very important because the court is actually expanding the legal lexicon on socially sensitive issues, even as the executive, which actually lays down the law, is shying away from it. To be sure, the Union government has recently approved amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act that will facilitate less messy divorces, but is yet to move the legislation to Parliament.
While the court has done well by recognizing that there can be relationships other than those institutionalized through marriage, it has left its ruling vague and, therefore, open to interpretation and potential subjectivity. Among other things, it has held that only couples who “hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses and have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period of time” would come under the purview of the ruling. “Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a domestic relationship,” the order clarified. While there cannot be watertight criteria to establish a live-in relationship, the court could have been more specific.
Also, some parts of the order that sets down criteria for excluding some women from the benefits it otherwise provides for those in live-in relationships are highly retrograde and should be reviewed immediately.
According to the order, a woman classified as “keep” will not be entitled to compensation. “If a man has a keep whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant, it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage,” the order stated.
Such references, besides being highly objectionable, are a major loophole that smart lawyers can take advantage of; what the court has given with one hand, it has taken away with the other. This part of the order should be immediately reviewed, even as its progressive bits are retained.
The Supreme Court ruling on live-in relationships: progressive or retrograde? Tell us at email@example.com