In a victory for LGBTIQ equality and same-sex couples in South Africa, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament has adopted a Civil Union Amendment Bill. The Parliamentary Committee's adoption of the Bill is a major step in the proposed legislation’s journey to becoming law.
Mamba Online reports the good news: "The Bill aims to remove Section 6 of the Civil Union Act which allows Home Affairs officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the grounds of their “conscience, religion [or] belief”.
The Private Member’s Bill was introduced by Cope MP Deidre Carterin January in response to increasing numbers of same-sex couples who were turned away from Home Affairs offices when they attempted to marry due to a lack of willing marriage officers.
According to Home Affairs, more than half of the 692 Home Affairs marriage officers are exempted from marrying lesbian and gay couples. In fact, out of 412 branches, only 111 have marriage officers willing to marry same-sex couples.
In August, the Bill was deemed desirable by the Home Affairs Committee. After a second call for written submissions, there was also overwhelming support from the communityat large.
On Wednesday, the committee unanimously approved Carter’s Bill, with some amendments. Two “transitional provision” clauses were added, allowing exemptions granted before the adoption of the Bill to remain in force, but only for a period of 24 months.
The Legal Resources Centre and LGBTIQ activist Funeka Soldaat from Free Gender, who have actively campaigned for the removal of Section 6, applauded the committee’s adoption of the Bill.
“All members of the community are encouraged to join us in this historic moment. We celebrate the small victory of ensuring that all forms of marginalisation are removed from our laws,” said Soldaat. “We look forward to when all Home Affairs offices and marriage officials are able to officiate same-sex marriages without prejudice or favour.” "
AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COALITION COMMENTS: Indeed a victory for LGBTQ equality, this Amendment at this time and should it prevail hereafter should not be touted as a loss for religion, but rather as the legislating of true equality in the civil union laws for same-sex couples. This in no way robs anyone of their right to their religious practice and beliefs, but would simply eradicate a discriminatory provision. It rights a wrong. Under no circumstances should any one person's religious beliefs step on the toes of another person's civil rights, and right to equal treatment under the law. If persons working within the realm of government cannot stomach equality regardless of their religion, they should find a new career! Melanie Nathan, Executive Director.
Photo by Melanie Nathan© 2011