Delivering a landmark verdict, the Kerala High Court on Friday refused to separate a 18-year-old boy and a 19-year-old girl who were in a live-in relationship, saying it cannot close its eyes to the fact that such relationships have become rampant in the society.
A division bench of justices V Chitambaresh and K P Jyothindranath pronounced the judgment while dismissing a habeas corpus petition filed by the girl's father.
The Supreme Court had recently held that an adult couple has a right to live together without marriage, while asserting that a 20-year-old Kerala woman, whose marriage had been annulled, could choose whom she wanted to live with.
In his petition, the girl's father alleged that his daughter was in the illegal custody of the boy.
Both the girl and the boy are Muslims and hail from Alappuzha district.
Dismissing the plea, the bench said, "We cannot close our eyes to the fact that live-in relationship has become rampant in our society and such living partners cannot be separated by the issue of a writ of habeas corpus provided they are major.
"The constitutional court is bound to respect the unfettered right of a major to have live-in relationship even though the same may not be palatable to the orthodox section of the society," it said.
The girl and the boy had appeared before the court on receipt of notice in the writ petition and said they were intensely in love with each other since school days.
The girl's father submitted the boy has not completed 21 years and hence is a 'child' as defined under Section 2(a) of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
He asserted that there can be no valid marriage between the two and any offspring born to them can only be an illegitimate child in the eye of law.
"We however notice that the detenue has attained puberty and has the capacity to marry both under Section 251 of Mahomedan Law as well as the provisions of the Act," the court said.
The bench, while considering the fact that she stayed with the boy out of her own volition and she being a major has a right to live wherever she wants to, said the girl has every right to live with the boy even outside her wedlock since live-in relationship has been statutorily recognised by the legislature itself.
The Supreme Court has held that live-in relationships were now even recognised by the legislature and they had found a place under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
The observations came while the apex court was hearing a plea filed by Nandakumar against a Kerala High Court order annulling his marriage with Thushara on the ground that he had not attained the legal age of marriage.
Prohibition of Child Marriage Act states that a girl can't marry before the age of 18, and a boy before 21.
The high court had also granted the custody of Thushara to her father after noting that she was not Nandakumar's "lawfully wedded" wife.
A bench of justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said their marriage could not said to be "null and void" merely because Nandakumar was less than 21 years of age at the time of marriage.
The apex court had also clarified that a court cannot interfere in the marriage of two consenting adult and cannot annul the marriage in a habeas corpus (a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, for securing the person's release.
(With PTI inputs)