A three-member inquiry commission formed by the Syro Malabar church in Kochi this week invalidated an interfaith marriage between a Muslim man and a Catholic woman following a row over the violation of canonical law, which required the permission of the Bishop.
The wedding, which took place last year on November 9, triggered a controversy as it was attended by a former Bishop of Satna, Madhya Pradesh. Traditionally, Bishops do not attend mixed or interfaith marriage ceremonies. But the row started after the couple posted their photo with the Bishop and the same was published in the local newspapers.
The incident drew criticism from the laity who alleged that the church was 'promoting' interfaith marriages while speaking out against 'Love jihad' on the other hand.
Is 'Love Jihad' a threat to the Church?
Now, in earlier incidents of interfaith marriages as well, the Catholic Church in Kerala had alleged that Catholic women were becoming victims to 'Love jihad' – an idea that claims that members of the Muslim community were marrying women from other religious faiths and forcing them to convert to Islam.
But the question here is do they have the authority to invalidate an interfaith marriage?
Following this incident, the Madras high court in mid-November announced that inter-faith marriages are not legally valid until either of them does not convert. Justice PR Shivakumar and justice VS Ravi said if the couple wanted to solemnise their marriage, say for example, as per Hindu custom, the man should have converted to Hinduism or the woman should have converted to Christianity if she wanted to do so as per Christian custom.
In case, neither of the partners wants to leave their practicing faith, they need to register their marriage under the Special Marriage Act 1954.
According to media reports, the Syro-Malabar church has now set rules to ensure that interfaith marriages in the Christian community are held in adherence to strict canon laws. The church had said that a set of protocols will be prepared and sent to Bishops to make sure that the marriage of people between two faiths is solemnised in the Catholic way, which once again means the Church customs will be mandated above any other religion or faith.
The church had also asked the bishops to treat inter-faith marriages as "disparity of cult marriages" but conduct them in the proper Catholic way. According to the guidelines issued by the Syro-Malabar church, non-Christians will have to express willingness to be part of the Christian ceremonies and not mix wedding ceremonies with practices of other communities and religion.
However, it should be noted that every religion has its own doctrine and laws. Since, the descent's religious life matters here, the Church is insisting on same-faith marriage. Anybody can follow any religion and the church cannot stop it legally. It remains the decision of the man and the woman whether they want to live with each other, that upholds the marriage.