- It involves continuous cohabitation between the partners without any responsibilities or obligations towards one another.
- The Supreme Court in Indra Sarma vs. V.K.V. Sarma defined live-in relationships as- A domestic cohabitation between an adult unmarried male and an adult unmarried female.
Supreme Court on Live in relationships
The Supreme Court has, in several rulings, held that live-in-relationships are not illegal.
- In Lata Singh v. State of UP (2006) it was observed that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of heterosexual sex does not amount to any offence even though it may be perceived as immoral.
- In the case of Khushboo v. Kanniammal & Anr (2010) it was held that living together is a right to life.
- In Indra Sarma v. VKV Sarma (2013) the court observed, “Live-in or marriage like relationship is neither a crime nor a sin though socially unacceptable. The decision to marry or not to marry or to have a heterosexual relationship is intensely personal.”
- In Shafin Jahan v. Asokan (2018), it held that the right to choose one’s life partner is an important facet of the right to life, and social approval of intimate personal decisions should not be the basis for recognising them.
- In Navtej Johar v. Union of India (2018), it read down Section 377 of the IPC which criminalised consensual homosexual relationships.
- At the same time Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence (DV) Act, extends protection to women who are in “relationship in the nature of marriage” but all live-ins do not qualify as relationship in the nature of marriage.
Supreme Court had laid down some guidelines (not exhaustive but insightful) for testing under what circumstances, a live-in relationship will fall within the expression “relationship in the nature of marriage.”
- The important factors for determination would be – a reasonable duration of period of relationship to be determined subjectively;
- partners should have been in a shared household as defined under Section 2(s) of the DV Act;
- there must be some pooling of resources and financial arrangements supporting each other,
- sharing bank accounts, joint investments etc; having some sort of domestic arrangements like entrusting the responsibility of household chores on the woman;
- having sexual relationship, not just for pleasure, but for emotional and intimate relationship, for procreation of children, so as to give emotional support, companionship and also material affection, caring etc; having children and sharing the responsibility for bringing up and supporting them;
- holding out to the public and socializing with friends, relations and others, as if they are husband and wife; and
- Sharing a common intention of parties as to what their relationship is to be and to involve, and as to their respective roles and responsibilities, primarily determines the nature of that relationship.
Protection for Women under such relationship
- Women in relationships in the nature of marriage are entitled to protection and maintenance under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
- But the relationships which fail to qualify the above-mentioned test will not be entitled to seek protection under the DV Act.
What constitutes illegality?
- A live-in could be bigamous, adulterous, or involving some underage partner.
- These relations are illegal entailing legal ramifications for the parties involved therein.
Why younger generation have altogether different expectations from relationships?
- The parties enjoy the liberty to walk out of the relationship without legal hassles.
- Live-ins offer an opportunity to check compatibility and know each other better before they take the plunge.
- There may also be those who cohabit informally because they cannot formalise their relationships, such as inter-caste/religion opposite-sex couples who are barred from marrying by social norms, or same-sex couples, who are barred from marrying by law.
- Referring to women in live-in relationships, a Bench of the State Human Rights Commission of Rajasthan said that the “concubine” life of a woman cannot be termed a dignified life.
- This is patriarchy which prompts universities going forward to have more conservative curfews for female students.
- In the name of protecting the women it indirectly says don’t challenge the patriarchal structures and institutions meant to keep the women in their place.
- In stating that women in live-in relationships are ‘kept’ as concubines, it ignores the possibility that such relationships could be a viable alternative in cases where marriage is legally or socially prohibited.
- It also assumes that marriage is, or ought to be, the only relationship through which women sexually associate with men.
- At another level, by equating women who cohabit with concubines, it entrenches the patriarchal Madonna-whore dichotomy: Which means that women can either be good women who abide by the societal boundaries set for them, committed to relationship or bad women who dare transgress these boundaries.
- Article 19 of the Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of speech and expression, includes the freedom to express one’s identity, sexual preferences, and love.
- The right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 includes the right to privacy. The right to choose how to organise one’s personal intimacies is an important facet of the right to privacy and, therefore, outside the purview of the state. Demanding that the government seek to prohibit live-in relationships is therefore brazen contempt of the decisions of the apex court.
- The language in the order will likely create a chilling effect, preventing vulnerable citizens, in need of legal protection, from seeking redress. The SHRC also demanded that governments run awareness campaigns against live-in relationships.
- In light of Supreme Court Judgments, it is important to note that being in a live-in relationship is a valid choice which deserves the recognition and protection of law.
- Illegality is different from immorality. People may regard live-in-relationships as immoral, but that is their own perception which cannot be allowed to influence anyone else’s personal decision.
- Moral policing cannot be permitted, especially when the arrangement has the endorsement from the touchstone of fundamental rights.
- The most important concomitants of any relationship are love, trust and mutual respect. The existence of these make any relationship blissful, irrespective of the societal sanction of marriage.