South Africa continues to forge ahead with becoming a country of equal rights and setting an example for other nations to recognise the LGBTIAQ+ community. Exclamations of “Love wins” resonated through the country as President Cyril Ramaphosa officially signed the Civil Union Amemdment Act into law, which means marriage officers at Home Affairs cannot refuse to officiate same-sex marriages.
How has the new Act changed civil union laws in South Africa to prevent discrimination?
The Act repeals section 6 of the Civil Union Act, which allowed a marriage officer to inform the Minister that he or she objects to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex on the grounds of conscience, religion and belief. Reportedly, 88% of the 409 Home Affairs offices in South Africa did not serve same-sex couples.
What’s more, the removal of this barrier to equality calls for the The Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, to ensure that there is a Home Affairs officer available in every office to solemnise same-sex marriages.
Before being signed into law, the Bill was initially sponsored by COPE’s Deidre Carter, who said section 6 was a violation of human rights and our Constitution: “It touches upon the genesis of our constitutional order. It touches that which is most sacrosanct in our constitution, our Bill of Rights and the right to equality and dignity: that the state may not unfairly discriminate and that it has the responsibility to promote, respect and fulfil these rights.”
What else does the Civil Union Amendment Act say?
There are some controversial aspects of the new Act, though: it states that the Home Affairs Department is allowed a 24-month “transitional period” to enable officers to be trained. This provision was met with fierce criticism from DA MP Hanif Hoosen: “Why should any civil servant have the right to pick and choose which law they want to follow. This is wrong. If you are an employee of the State, you must serve all citizens. What people do in their bedrooms is none of your business.”
Of course, for the most part, the passing of the Act has been celebrated, with the likes of Spokesperson for the Centre of Human Rights Thiruna Naidoo stating it was “postive step towards eliminating the existing differentiation between marriages and civil union partnerships, reducing discrimination against same-sex relationships…”
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