/ 14 November 2006

Same-sex Bill gets Parliament go-ahead

Parliament on Tuesday approved the controversial Civil Unions Bill, which provides for same-sex marriage, making South Africa the first African country to do so and one of only a few in the world.

The Bill received 230 votes in its favour and 41 votes against it. There were three abstentions. The measure was opposed by almost all opposition parties, bar the Democratic Alliance (DA), which allowed its members a free vote on the issue.

The Bill provides for opposite-sex and same-sex couples of 18 years or older to solemnise and register a voluntary union, either by marriage or civil partnership.

Same-sex couples can be married by civil marriage officers and such religious marriage officers who consider such marriages not to fall outside the tenets of their religion.

Fight discrimination

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa needs to fight and resist all forms of discrimination and prejudice, including homophobia. She also condemned violence against same-sex couples fuelled by hatred.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the process of debate on the Bill was rigorous and extensive. However, the debate is by no means over and South Africans should continue to engage each other on such matters in a constructive way to lead the country towards ”the kind of society that we all fought for as embodied within our Constitution”.

”The challenge that we shall continue to face has to do with the fact that 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 colour, creed, culture and sex,” she said.

During debate on the measure, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said same-sex unions or same-sex marriages should be afforded similar space as heterosexual marriages ”in the sunshine of democracy”.

The minister said that the question before MPs was not ”whether same-sex marriages or civil unions were right or not; it was whether South Africa was going to suppress same-sex partners or not”.

He noted that men and women of homosexual and lesbian orientation ”joined the ranks of the democratic forces” in the struggle for liberation.

Public ‘misled’

The DA accused the African National Congress (ANC) of having misled South Africans during the proposed law’s hearings. ”It is unfortunate that the ANC pulled the amended version of the Civil Union Bill out of the bottom drawer merely a day before voting in committee.

”Surely, the portfolio committee on home affairs has misled the public in the hearings because the version before us is not the one presented at all the hearings,” said DA spokesperson Sandy Kalyan.

Speaking during the parliamentary debate on the proposed law, Kalyan said it was unfortunate that the ANC had forced its MPs to ignore their conscience and vote in favour of the Bill as a show of loyalty.

”It was quite interesting to note how much support there was by the ANC for the section which refers to marriage officers who may apply to the minister, on the grounds of conscience, not to conduct unions or marriages for same-sex couples … yet the ANC will not allow its MPs to vote for this Bill on grounds of conscience.”

She said her party would allow its members to follow their conscience when voting for the proposed legislation.


The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said its principles did not allow it to approve such a law. ”The IFP has always advocated strong family principles and we are ultimately guided by strong moral values. We feel that there were several other options in relation to this issue that Parliament did not explore properly.

”Therefore, we reject any notion of same-sex unions or marriages and we oppose this Bill,” said party spokesperson Inka Mars.

The Independent Democrats (ID) also rejected the proposed law, saying South Africans are not ready for such a law. ”South Africans always mention with pride that ours is the most progressive Constitution in the world. Unfortunately, however, the values of our society do not always match the progressive values of our Constitution,” said ID spokesperson Lance Greyling.

The Freedom Front Plus said it is of the view that marriage is an institution created by God between man and woman, and it would therefore not endorse the proposed law.

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania MP Motsoko Pheko said same-sex marriages ”are so repugnant” that only three other countries in the world have allowed it. He described South Africa as a country that suffers from Eurocentric leanings on the matter.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe described the passage of the Bill as ”the saddest” day of the democratic Parliament in 12 years. He said while some forces are trying to convince people that homosexuality was okay, God considers it ”an abomination”.

Voting in favour of same-sex marriage was a rejection of God’s laws, and those who did so would face divine wrath, Meshoe warned MPs. He said the Bill, by inference, ”calls sexual perversion a legitimate alternative lifestyle that should be openly accepted”.

”With this Bill, the ruling party and all those who support it are inviting serious trouble on themselves, without even considering the impact this Bill will have on future generations,” he warned.

The National Council of Provinces now also needs to approve the Bill to meet a Constitutional Court deadline of December 1 to correct what it ruled in December last year was an unconstitutional definition of marriage in legislation. — Sapa, I-Net Bridge