[Marxism] South Africa approves same-sex marriage bill, first for Africa

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 16 11:26:44 MST 2006

South Africa approves same-sex marriage bill, first for Africa
Associated Press Writer


CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) - Gays in South Africa can be joined in
matrimony under legislation parliament passed Tuesday, an
unprecedented move on a continent where homosexuality is taboo.

Traditionalists said they were saddened and gay activists said the
bill did not go far enough. Veterans of the governing African
National Congress hailed the Civil Union Bill for extending basic
freedoms to everyone under the spirit of the country's first
post-apartheid constitution, adopted a decade ago by framers
determined to make discrimination a thing of the past.

"When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves
from an unjust painful past, by declaring that never again shall it
be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis
of color, creed, culture and sex," Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe
Mapisa-Nqakula declared.

South Africa's constitution was the first in the world to prohibit
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That provided a
powerful legal tool to gay rights activists, even though South Africa
remains conservative on such issues. A traditionalist lawmaker,
Kenneth Meshoe, said Tuesday was the "saddest day in our 12 years of
democracy" and warned that South Africa "was provoking God's anger."

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria,
Tanzania, Ghana and most other sub-Saharan countries. Even in South
Africa, gays and lesbians are often attacked because of their sexual

One church leader in Nigeria denounced the move as "satanic," and
another slammed it as recognition of "animal rights" rather than
human rights, reflecting the views on a deeply conservative continent
where some countries are debating constitutional amendments to ban
same sex marriages.

Activists in Europe, where several countries have gay union
provisions, hailed South Africa as a shining example and gay couples
in the country started making wedding plans.

"For some people marriage means nothing, it is just a piece of paper.
But we want that symbolism of having a legally binding document of
our love," said Lindiwe Radebe, who wants to marry her partner
Bathini Dambuza.

The bill provides for the "voluntary union of two persons, which is
solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union." It
does not specify whether they are heterosexual or homosexual

The National Assembly passed the bill 230-41 with three abstentions.
It now has to go to the National Council of Provinces, which is
expected to be a formality, before being signed into law by President
Thabo Mbeki.

The bill was drafted to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling
last December that said existing marriage legislation was
unconstitutional as it discriminated against same-sex couples. The
court set a Dec. 1 deadline for parliament to change the law.

Rather than change existing marriage laws, the government introduced
the additional civil union bill in the hopes that this would be the
speediest option.

Given the ANC's huge majority, the government can push through almost
any legislation it wants. But it had to order to lawmakers to respect
the party line and wheeled out stalwarts of the anti-apartheid
movement to convince reluctant traditionalists.

"The roots of this bill lie in many years of struggle," said Defense
Minister Mosuia Lekota, who reminded lawmakers that many homosexuals
went into exile and prison with ANC members during white racist rule.

"This country cannot afford to be a prison of timeworn prejudices
which have no basis in modern society. Let us bequeath to future
generations a society which is more democratic and tolerant than the
one that was handed down to us," Lekota said.

Emotions were charged during the two hour debate, with terms like
"repugnant" and "cultural aberration" flying through the
parliamentary chamber.

"This bill has been a headache and a heartache for many South
Africans," said the small Inkatha Freedom Party.

The Roman Catholic church and many traditional leaders objected to
the use of "marriage" saying this denigrated the sanctity of
traditional marriages.

In an effort to ease some of these concerns, the bill allowed both
religious and civil officers to refuse to marry same sex couples on
moral grounds.

Gay rights groups criticized this "opt-out" clause, saying they
should be treated the same as heterosexual couples.

But in general, they hailed the new measure as a "rejection of
previous attempts to render lesbian and gay people as second-class

"It demonstrates powerfully the commitment of our lawmakers to
ensuring that all human beings are treated with dignity," said Fikile
Vilakazi of the Joint Working Group, a national network of 17 gay and
lesbian organizations.

Some constitutional experts have predicted that the bill does not
conform with the constitutional court ruling because of the opt out
clause, meaning that homosexual couples don't have exactly the same
rights as heterosexual ones.

"I think it will be challenged," said Beth Goldblatt, a senior
researcher at the Center of Applied Legal Studies at the University
of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg. "I don't see why people should
present themselves before a marriage officer and be refused just
because the marriage officer has different moral views."

She described the bill as the "messy product of a poorly drafted
piece of legislation," which was rushed through purely to meet the
Dec. 1 deadline.

Denmark in 1989 became the first country to legislate for same-sex
partnerships and several other European Union members have followed
suit. In the United States, only the state of Massachusetts allows
gay marriage, Vermont and Connecticut permit civil unions, and more
than a dozen states grant lesser legal rights to gay couples.

Guillermo Rodriguez, a member of a French association of gays and
lesbians saluted South Africa and said he hoped France would follow

"It's a beautiful thing for South Africa today," he said.

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