Donna Stephen

Same-sex marriages

2004-12-03 12:29

When I saw yesterday's news headlines about couple Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys being granted a verdict allowing them to marry legally, I wondered how much of an impact it would make on the public, really.

The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the common law definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage.

I knew two things though: First, that the African Christian Democratic Party would find a constitutional angle to justify their anti-gay leanings and that some group would slag the decision as infringing on the sanctity of marriage.

Which they did. They expressed "extreme disappointment" at the judgment. "The ruling does not alter our Judeo-Christian view that marriage should be between male and female," ACDP spokesperson Steve Swart stated.

Same-sex marriages 'unchristian'

What I didn't expect was the Anglican church to be the first institution to say about the ruling "same-sex marriages are unchristian".

It's bad PR for an institution who is trying to reform their image after their longstanding condemnation of gay clergy.

And, secondly, that there would be lots of references to that tired secular argument, often quoted by people who try to find an intellectual reason to justify their opinion against homosexual lifestyles, that it's unnatural.

The catholic church, by any measure is a bit of a dinosaur, and about once a year the pope gets around to mentioning that the church (or The Church) doesn't support same-sex marriages on the grounds that the homosexual lifestyle is a threat to the institution of the family. (I've even heard it phrased as 'the sanctity of the family'.)

In a 'civilised' country...

I would think that in a civilised country, which is the way I think of South Africa, issues such as this should be pass´. We should be beyond being judgemental about lifestyle - any lifestyle.

I see no social harm in embracing alternative lifestyles. As far as I'm concerned gay lifestyles don't even qualify as alternative. It's just the way things are. Some people are gay and some are not.

It's not as simple as that though. Homosexual people have been, and continue to be, the target of prejudice.

And there are a lot of legal and constitutional protections afforded the institution of marriage. Why two people who've built a life together over the last twelve years, couldn't legalise it up to now, amounts to definitions.

Because the bible says so

We define marriage in gender terms. It's the union of a man and a woman. Because the bible says so.

The bible also recommends a lot of other things like "thou should not covet thy neighbour's wife" and taxes aren't cool - but we manage to ignore those until it's convenient to find a justification for a personal prejudice.

The government is lukewarm about changing the definition - their biggest issue is it will involve the changing of wordings and definitions in an innumerable number of laws.

My interpretation of this is a) it's a lot of work, b)it's expensive to make all these changes and c) they're a little worried about embracing it too enthusiastically given the general public's surprisingly conservative viewpoint on the issue.

Frankly, I think that the common arguments used by most people against same-sex marriages are tired and without substance.

The decision was a purely legal one, but we know that where the Supreme Court goes on civil issues, the constitution is sure to follow.

SA constitution needs to be amended

The SA constitution will have to be amended to, as the Judge of Appeal Edwin Cameron recommended in his judgment, the definition of marriage reading: "Marriage is the union of two persons to the exclusion of all others for life."

If we can root out sexism and racial prejudice from old laws, it's a job which we're up to - it has to be done.

Our constitution is one of the most forward-thinking in the world and we should keep it that way by recognising these additional basic rights for gay couples.

  • Donna Stephen is editor of and she thinks it's unchristian to tell people that they can't get married.

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