Bid to amend Civil Union Act

2018-05-21 12:59

MP wants govt to compel state officers to officiate same-sex marriages.

MP wants govt to compel state officers to officiate same-sex marriages.

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The gay and lesbian community in Pietermaritzburg is pinning its hopes on the efforts by a Cope MP to compel marriage officers employed by the state to officiate in same-sex marriages.

“We welcome any steps that would result in members of the gay and lesbian community being treated with dignity just like any other human being,” health co-ordinator of the Pietermaritzburg- based Gay and Lesbian Network, Sphelele Ntshiba said. “As it stands, members of the gay and lesbian community find it extremely hard to find a Home Affairs marriage officer who is willing to marry them. This is primarily because the law allows them to choose not to officiate in a marriage involving same-sex couples,” Ntshiba said.

This as Cope MP, Deidre Carter, is pushing for Parliament to amend the Civil Union Act regulating gay and lesbian marriages.

In its current form, the Civil Union Act allows a marriage officer in the employ of the state to inform the Minister of Home Affairs that he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion, and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex — and to be exempted from officiating over such marriages.

Carter’s private member’s bill, aimed at introducing changes to the Civil Union Act by repealing section 6 of the Act allowing marriage officers employed by the Home Affairs Department to refuse to officiate in same-sex marriages, is currently being considered by Parliament.

The bill will be introduced in the House around the end of the month after which it will be referred to a parliamentary committee for consideration.

“I won’t have a problem if a person outside government can refuse to officiate in a marriage on personal grounds, but not a person working for the government. We simply can’t afford to have a law which allows government officials to discriminate against certain individuals,” Carter said.

In 2006, South Africa became the first country in Africa to recognise same-sex marriages when Parliament passed the Civil Union Act.

The act was introduced after the Constitutional Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to provide the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples, whilst denying them to same-sex couples.

However, activists have since pointed out a number of flaws in the act, which they claim perpetuates the discrimination of gays and lesbians.

Ntshiba said the majority of people from the gay and lesbian community around Pietermaritzburg were choosing to rather remain single than go through the “humiliating” processes of trying to get married.

“The act makes it extremely difficult for people from the gay and lesbian community to get married.

“For instance, if you are married and you change your gender on your ID, a common occurrence within the gay and lesbian community, your marriage automatically falls away.

“If you change your gender and want to stay married you have to first divorce and then get married afresh. If you are heterosexual, divorcing and remarrying is an easy process but not if you are a member of the gay and lesbian community — the process can take several years to complete,” she said.

Carter, who has been in contact with members of the gay and lesbian community living around Pietermaritzburg, said the act discriminated against members of the gay and lesbian community.

“Our constitution does not allow the discrimination of any member of society and yet we have this section 6 in the Civil Union Act that discriminates against members of the gay and lesbian community. Even Parliament’s legal advisers agree that the section is discriminatory,” Carter said.

Members of the gay and lesbian community who cannot get a Home Affairs official who is willing to marry them can opt for a pastor not employed by government.

However, Ntshiba said finding a pastor who is willing to officiate in same sex marriages could be equally daunting.

“As you would know, many churches and pastors don’t approve of same-sex marriages,” she said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  same sex marriage

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