Home affairs officials’ homophobic ‘government-sanctioned discrimination’ revealed

The fact that only 28% of home affairs officials are willing to marry same-sex couples has been met with “shock and disappointment” by LGBTI activists.

“We were really not expecting the figure to be this low. We are shocked and really disappointed,” said Lerato Phalakatshela, hate crimes manager at OUT Well-Being, of the statistic, originally reported by the website MambaOnline.

The Civil Union Act of 2006 allows for marriage officers not to marry same-sex couples “on the grounds of conscience, religion and belief”.

The list of home affairs offices at which same-sex couples could be married was made available after Malusi Gigaba, the minister of home affairs, met with LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) activists. A task team – made up of LGBTI representatives and representatives from the department and established to look at ways of addressing the issues faced by LGBTI people at home affairs offices – decided to have this list of offices complied and released, “to ensure proper and dignified solemnisation of all marriages”.

Although making this list available would come as welcome news to same-sex couples planning on getting married at one of the country’s 409 home affairs offices, the fact that only 117 of these have officials willing to marry them is, according to Joshua Sehoole, “really ridiculous” and “a huge injustice”.


Sehoole, regional human rights officer for the organisation Iranti, and member of the task team, said: “When it comes to state employees who are employed with public funds – with taxpayers’ money – extending conscientious objection to them in the execution of their public duties is essentially government-sanctioned discrimination. Because when you’re in a public office, you should be providing services to everybody, without discrimination of any kind – regardless of the person’s gender or sexual orientation. That’s what our constitutional ideals are and the Act, as it currently stands, does not live up to those ideals. It’s ill formed.”

Sehoole added: “When religious freedoms start to encroach on another person’s rights, that is where you’ve got to draw the line. We know that there’s a gap between our legislative framework and the feelings of people on the ground. In this kind of case, though, government has an even bigger obligation to ensure that, structurally, it does not allow for that kind of discrimination.”

Although welcoming the release of the list of home affairs offices at which same-sex couples could be married, Sehoole added: “Getting the list out is one thing, but following on from this we have to try and ensure that at every home affairs office there is an official willing to marry same-sex couples. But even this is really just treating the symptoms of a deeper-rooted problem that needs legal reform. We made it clear, from the offset, that one of the things we wanted was legal redress and to make a joint submission to the department of justice around what needs to be looked at.”

Phalakatshela, who is also a member of the task team, added that the minister had “assured us that this section of the Act could be something to debated and possibly amended”.

In a statement released by the minister, he spoke of being open to “reviewing relevant legislation to address identified gaps” and added: “On the whole, we are on course, trusting that the task team will take us to the envisaged goal of fair treatment, equality and justice for all — irrespective of sexual or gender orientation.”

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow fellow at the Mail & Guardian.


The Other Foundation

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: George Euvrard, the brains behind our cryptic crossword

George Euvrard spoke to Athandiwe Saba about his passion for education, clues on how to solve his crosswords and the importance of celebrating South Africa.

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

More top stories

Racial bias against black medical practitioners ‘reflects fissures of an...

The testimonials of black doctors have given credence to allegations of racial profiling. Of those listed on a Gems blacklist, 94% of general practitioners were black

Why great white sharks are disappearing from South Africa’s coastline

Government panel blames killer whales for the depleted population of great white sharks, but experts say overfishing is the big culprit that is not being addressed

R100-billion needed to staunch KZN’s water woes

Municipalities have failed to maintain their existing infrastructure for providing residents with water

Niehaus has 48 hours to state why he should not...

The MKMVA spokesperson has been asked to give reasons why he should not be fired from his position at Luthuli House after attacking Jesse Duarte last week
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…