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India

India to amend divorce law for Christians

Catholic official welcome's the move but says the church's teaching on divorce has not changed

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi   

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi  

Published: September 14, 2016 05:45 AM GMT

Updated: September 14, 2016 10:02 AM GMT

India to amend divorce law for Christians

An Indian bride during a ceremony in New Delhi on March 10. The federal law ministry has cleared a long-pending proposal to amend a provision that requires Christian couples seeking divorce to separate for at least two years before filing their application.(Photo by AFP) 

Christian leaders have welcomed the Indian government's move to remove a discriminatory clause in India’s divorce legislation applicable to Christians, but a church officials say they still take a dim view of ending marriages.

The federal law ministry has cleared a long-pending proposal to amend a provision that requires Christian couples seeking divorce to separate for at least two years before filing their application. The period of separation for people of other religions is only one year.

"We welcome the move to take away the discriminatory provision from the law and make it equal for all," said Father Joseph Chinnayya, Deputy Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

However, the changes in the civil law "does not in any way affect the canonical proceedings or ecclesiastical code related to issues concerning Catholic marriages," said the priest, also a canon law expert.

"We do not deal with divorce, we only deal with issues of annulment," he said explaining that the traditional Catholic stand that a union ends only when it is proved that no valid marriage took place within the laws of the church.

Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the Joint Women's Program of the Church of North India, called the decision "a historic move."  She said it "is always better for a husband and wife to be separated rather than fighting all the time."

Several discriminatory provisions, especially against women, were amended in the Indian divorce law in 2001 following years of campaigning by women activists and church leaders, said Sister Mary Scaria, a Supreme Court lawyer and member of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.

But this provision to delay divorce among Christians "was not amended, as far as I understand, at the behest of some church people," she said. "The hierarchical church in their wisdom thought buying time could help re-unite couples through dialogue and counselling."

"Their thinking was very positive as it aimed at saving marriages," Sister Scaria said. However, the government cannot carry on with a discriminatory law in a secular nation, she added.

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