South Africa signs new same-sex marriage law

Gay rights groups elated

Troy Espera | December 01, 2006

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
CAPE TOWN — South Africa became the first country in Africa and only the fifth in the world to legalize same-sex marriages when its deputy president on Thursday signed a new law.

According to the Associated Press, the Civil Union Act went into effect on the eve of a December 1 deadline set by the Constitutional Court for the government to change its marriage legislation to ensure full equality for gays and lesbians.

Gay rights groups have welcomed the law, although, the AP reports that they criticized provisions allowing clergy and civil marriage officers to turn away gay couples if their consciences prevented them from marrying them.

"We see this as a victorious movement for the gay and lesbian community in South Africa, especially in a continent that is still scornful towards homosexuals," said Vista Kalipa, media coordinator of the Triangle Project, a group dedicated to fighting gay discrimination, reports Reuters.

"We hope that other countries in Africa will actually begin to see this as a positive thing, reaffirming that homosexuality is indeed African."

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka signed the law in her capacity as acting president because President Thabo Mbeki is in Nigeria.

South Africa recognized the rights of gay people in the constitution adopted after apartheid ended in 1994, at a time when leaders were determined to bury all kinds of legal discrimination. The constitution, the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, provides a powerful legal tool for gay rights activists even though South Africa remains conservative on such issues.

The AP reports that the governing African National Congress had to push the legislation through despite reservations from some of its own members. Influential traditional leaders said the legislation violated African cultural norms. The Roman Catholic Church and Muslim groups – and many other religious organizations – denounced it as violating the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. The Anglican church said it was up to individual ministers to decide whether to use the "opt out" clause, while liberal churches like the Metropolitan Churches Community were in favor.

The National Assembly passed the legislation earlier this month and the National Council of Provinces approved it on Tuesday. Mlambo-Ngcuka's signature was the final legal step.

"There will be a huge response from same-sex couples who have waited such a long time for their relationship to be recognized," predicted Melanie Judge of the lesbian and gay project, OUT.

Janine Pressman, a pastor with the Glorious Light Metropolitan Community Churches in the capital, Pretoria, told the AP she hoped to marry a couple on Saturday, provided the paperwork could be rushed through.

Priests wanting to wed same sex couples at a religious ceremony have to apply for permission from the Home Affairs Ministry and possibly undergo exams to get their license, ministry spokesman Jacky Mashapu said to the AP.

The Civil Union Act provides for the "voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union." – Issued by Gay Link Content

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