South Africa approves same-sex marriage

Troy Espera | November 16, 2006

CAPE TOWN — South Africa's parliament voted Tuesday to legalize same-sex weddings, making it the first African country to approve such unions.

According to the BBC, the controversial Civil Union bill was passed by 230 votes to 41.

The legislation was introduced after the Constitutional Court ruled last year that the existing laws discriminated against homosexuals.

The ruling African National Congress ordered all MPs to turn up and vote for the bill, despite the opposition of church and traditional leaders.

The Bill makes provision for both opposite and same sex couples of 18 years or older to solemnize and register a voluntary union by way of either a marriage or a civil partnership, reports AllAfrica.com.

The existing Marriage Act defines a marriage as a "union between a man and a woman".

Melanie Judge, the program manager for OUT, a gay rights advocacy group, told the New York Times that Parliament had taken a courageous stance in the face of strong political pressure. Although some countries recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples, she said to the Times, only the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada allow same-sex marriages.

Judge credits South Africa's liberal Constitution with forcing change.

"This has been a litmus test of our constitutional values," she said to the Times. "It forced us to consider: What does equality really mean? What does it look like? Equality does not exist on a sliding scale."

Last year, the Constitutional Court gave the government until 1 Dec. 1, 2006 to legalize same-sex weddings, after gay rights activists took the issue to court.

The ruling was based on the constitution, which was the first in the world specifically to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference.

According to BBC, this is unusual in Africa where homosexuality is largely taboo – notably in its neighbor Zimbabwe. – Issued by the Gay Link Content

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