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SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Letter from JWG to the Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs


October 16, 2006

October 09, 2006
Madam Speaker, Ms Baleka Mbete (per fax)
The Honourable Deputy Minster of Home Affairs, Mr. Malusi Gigaba (email)
cc. Chair of Committees, Mr Geoffrey Doidge (email)


LETTER FROM THE JOINT WORKING GROUP

As the Joint Working Group, a national network of seventeen organizations working in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) sector, we wish to express our serious concern about the manner and process by which the public hearings on the Civil Union Bill were conducted.

We hereby request your intervention so as to ensure that the public deliberations on the Civil Union Bill are in keeping with Constitutional principles, and that equal opportunity is afforded to lesbian and gay voices in the process. It is important to understand that in many communities, LGBT people are victimised and discriminated against, and that, as a result, it is critical to ensure that any public forum for participation is designed in such a way that LGBT voices are not marginalised.

The concerns we wish to raise, based on our presence at the hearings held in Soweto, Polokwane, Welkom, Nelspriut, Rustenberg, New Hanover, Umtata and Upington, are as follows:
  • At the outset of the hearings, no parameters for the discussions were set. It was critical that the Chair of the discussions outline the purpose of the hearings and that submissions are to be made within the broader principles of the Constitution. The lack of parameters allowed numerous instances of hate speech, against lesbian and gay people, to be freely expressed. In these cases, no attempts were made by the Chair to curtail such speech and indicate that such speech was contrary to the Constitution.

  • A climate of tolerance and respect was not created at the hearings, such that lesbian and gay individuals could safely and freely voice their views. To the contrary, allowing discriminatory comments from the floor resulted in lesbian and gay local community members being too fearful to express themselves at the hearings.

  • The last minute rescheduling of the venue and/or times of the hearing in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. This leads us to believe that there were interests to influence which constituencies were present at the hearings.

    In addition, speaking on SABC 1's "Asikhulume" on Sunday, October 1 Mr. Patrick Chauke (Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs) expressed his concern about the invisibility of different LGBT organizations in the public hearings. This statement shows Mr. Chauke's lack of understanding of the geographical placement of LGBT organisations around South Africa, as well as the dynamics and dangers for LGBT individuals taking part in public hearings. In taking the public hearings to remote areas such as villages and rural areas, where there are no gay and lesbian organisations in operation, he disadvantaged the potential for LGBT organisations and individuals to raise their concerns with the Bill. There are gay and lesbian people living in these areas, but they are understandably not publicly open about their sexual orientation; for them to come and speak at these hearings, in a climate of intolerance and without support, could pose a physical danger.

    Parliament has the responsibility to conduct public hearings in a manner that embodies the principles of our Constitution and not to wittingly create a platform for victimization of citizens. In addition, parliament has a mandate to set the parameters for public discussions, within the context of constitutional values. This has not been the case in the hearings thus far. Instead, the very tenants of equality and freedom, in relation to sexual orientation, were themselves up for debate at some of the hearings.

    Parliament has a primary role to play in the deepening of equality, as stated by Justice Sachs: "It needs to be remembered that not only the courts are responsible for vindicating the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The legislature is in the frontline in this respect. One of its principal functions is to ensure that the values of the Constitution as set out in the Preamble and section 1 permeate every area of the law. Provided that the basic principles of equality as enshrined in the Constitution are not trimmed in the process, the greater the degree of public acceptance for same-sex unions, the more will the achievement of equality be promoted."

    The responsibility of parliament in this regard has not been upheld. We are of the belief that the public hearing process has, rather than strengthening the principles of equality and unity in diversity, fuelled the further victimisation of sexual minorities.

    Based on the manner in which the public hearing process has been conducted, we question the ability of the Chair of the Committee who is tasked to facilitate a public participation process on the Bill, to take a non-partisan approach on the matter at hand.

    If anything, the level of intolerance toward the rights of lesbian and gay people, as reflected in the hearings, should further strengthen the Committee's resolve to ensure:

  • That the principles of equality guide its conduct

  • That lesbian and gay equality is not further undermined by the parliamentary process

  • That the marginalization of lesbian and gay voices will not be tolerated by the legislature

    We hereby request that parliament takes all necessary steps to ensure that our constitutional values are not compromised during the deliberations on the Civil Union Bill, and that a climate is created for equal and respectful participation by lesbian and gay individuals and organizations.

    Sincerely,

    The Joint Working Group

    For more information contact:
    Melanie Judge, OUT LGBT Well-being
    Tel: 012 3445108 or 083 271 2543
    Email: programmes@out.org.za

    Glenn de Swardt, Triangle Project
    Tel: 021 448 3812
    Email: clinic@triangle.org.za

    About the Joint Working Group
    The Joint Working Group (JWG) is a national network that started in 2002. It combines the efforts of community organisations working primarily with gay and lesbian people or issues. Many of these organisations are registered with the Department of Social Development as Non-Profit Organisations. The JWG represents diverse LGBT constituencies across South Africa.

    Member organizations:

    Activate WITS
    Behind the Mask
    Durban Lesbian and Gay Community and Health Centre
    Forum for the Empowerment of Women
    Gay and Lesbian Archives
    Gender DynamiX
    Glorious Light Metropolitan Community Church
    Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church
    Hope and Unity Metropolitan Community Church
    Inner Circle
    Jewish OUTlook
    LEGBO Northern Cape
    Pietermaritzberg Gay and Lesbian Network
    OUT LGBT Well-being
    Out In Africa South African Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
    Rainbow UCT
    Triangle Project
    XX/Y FLAME


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