By Melanie Nathan-
Last month we reported a victory for LGBTQI equality and same-sex couples in South Africa, when the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament adopted a Civil Union Amendment Bill that could lead to full marriage equality for South Africa’s same-sex community. Now that journey to becoming law is one step closer to realization: Today the Members of Parliament voted to approve the Civil Union Amendment Bill. The legislation will next go to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). If and when it is passed by the NCOP, the Bill will then be sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign it into law. Until this law passes, too many government officials continue to express personal prejudice by being able to turn same-sex couples away due to an onerous religious exemption provision that screams for this amendment:
As reported by Mamba Online:
The Bill, introduced by Cope MP Deidre Carter, aims to remove Section 6 of the Civil Union Act which currently allows state-employed Home Affairs officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the grounds of their personal “conscience, religion [or] belief”.
The Bill was supported in Parliament by all parties except the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), the National Freedom Party and the African Independent Congress.
According to Home Affairs, only 111 out of 412 branches currently have marriage officers willing to marry same-sex couples.
The Bill does not impact marriage officers not employed by the state, such as those affiliated with churches and religious organisations; they will continue to be able to choose which couples they are willing to marry.
“This proposed amendment Bill’s importance goes beyond the mere repeal of section 6 of the Civil Union Act,” COPE President Mosioua Lekota told MPs. “It touches upon the genesis of our Constitutional Order. It touches that which is most sacrosanct in our Constitution, our Bill of the Rights: the right to equality and dignity; that the state may not unfairly discriminate; and that it has the responsibility to promote, respect and fulfill these rights.”
Addressing the ACDP, which has consistently opposed LGBTQ equality in Parliament, Lekota said: “To the ACDP I wish to point out that to my thinking there is dissonance between your religious stance and aversion to gay and lesbian rights and the ethos of most of the world’s religions – which advocate love, tolerance and acceptance of all.”
Carter told Parliament she initiated the Bill after receiving numerous complaints from same-sex couples who were turned away from Home Affairs offices. She said that the opt-out clause in the Civil Union Act “contravenes Chapter 10 of the Constitution: which sets out the values and principles by which our public administration must be governed; and that services must be provided impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias.”
As for the SA Parties which do not support this Bill- African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), the National Freedom Party and the African Independent Congress – they ought to note that they fail the spirit of the New South African Democracy as envisaged by former President Nelson Mandela, who noted that never again should South Africa be viewed as the “skunk of the world” by disregarding any community for full equality.
Indeed a victory for LGBTQ equality, the 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.
BY MELANIE NATHAN
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