Gay marriage, abortion rights 'not under threat'

The presidency has poured cold water over suggestions by conservative Christian lobby groups that President Jacob Zuma will change legislation on abortion and same-sex marriages.

Zuma’s spokesperson, Vusi Mona, told the Mail & Guardian this week that while the president has invited Christian groups to “come and debate” these issues, Zuma would nevertheless “uphold the Constitution”.

But Zuma had promised worshippers at Rhema Church during his election campaign that he would consider requests to change legislation permitting abortion and same-sex marriages, Family Policy Institute (FPI) director Errol Naidoo has told the M&G.

A Rhema statement issued after Zuma’s visit to the church in March confirms that Zuma “encouraged faith-based bodies to engage the government on such legislation as termination of pregnancy and same-sex marriage”.

Naidoo recently posted a message on the FPI’s Facebook page, stating: “This is a crucial time to speak up for the right to life of pre-born babies. President Zuma has indicated that he is open to scrapping the abortion legislation.”

The FPI is a Christian lobby group based in Cape Town that campaigns for Parliament to change laws that it says are inconsistent with Christian dogma. The organisation believes a minority grouping in the ANC and the government is responsible for pushing through laws that do not have the support of the majority of the country’s citizens.

“We are actively engaging people on these issues; we are speaking to government and building consensus.
We see that Jacob Zuma is more open to the church and we’re stepping up our efforts,” Naidoo said.

The FPI has scheduled a meeting with Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba about pornography, and wants to meet National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele to discuss the Sexual Offences Act, which the FPI argues needs to be more rigorously implemented and enforced.

“Our strategy is fourfold,” the FPI’s website states. “First, we begin with policy research, using the most up-to-date social science data available to demonstrate the vital link between the family and a healthy society. Second, we promote family-friendly policies and ideas in the public [sphere], framing arguments in a variety of publications.

“Third, we advance these ideas within our national Parliament, provincial legislatures, city councils and the general public.” The FPI’s fourth strategy is to “nurture” in young people “a calling to public service”.

Mona said Zuma’s comments at Rhema should not be seen as indicating his support for changes in legislation. “The president was saying: Let’s discuss and see who wins the day. The liberal interpretation of the Constitution may win the day, or the conservative interpretation may win the day. This is an opportunity to educate the conservatives and say that this is not a Christian state.”

As a member of the ruling party Zuma cannot deviate from ANC policy, so assumptions that these laws can be changed “may be a bit misplaced”, said Mona.

Zuma accepts that some feel the laws are incorrect and is of the view that South Africa cannot be an absolute state because that would be “fundamentalist”, he said, adding: “Everything is up for debate.”

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