Civil Union Amendment Bill: Marriage officers won't be allowed to turn down same-sex couples

  • The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has passed the Civil Union Amendment Bill prohibiting marriage officers from objecting to marrying same-sex couples.
  • The Bill will afford same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.
  • Chairperson of the NCOP’s Select Committee on Security and Justice Shahidabibi Shaikh said the Bill would ensure equality for all.

Marriage officers who refuse to solemnise civil unions between same-sex couples could soon be a thing of the past.

This after the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) passed the Civil Union Amendment Bill during a virtual sitting on Wednesday where most parties voted in favour - it garnered 33 votes.

The Bill would afford same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.

But more crucially, the purpose behind the amendment was to repeal section six of the Civil Union Act, which allowed a marriage officer to inform the minister that "he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion, and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex".

Chairperson of the NCOP's Select Committee on Security and Justice Shahidabibi Shaikh said the Bill would ensure equality for all.

"The Select Committee received a briefing from a legal adviser. Following this briefing the committee took a resolution to involve the public in the matter and called for submissions on the Bill. We received about 325 submissions from individuals and organisations. There were those who opposed the repeal of section 6 of the Civil Union Act and then there were those in support," she said.

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

The Act was introduced after the Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional for the state to provide benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples yet denied same-sex couples the same.

After several legal opinions and considerations, the committee agreed that it had ensured sufficient public participation.

"Members agreed to repeal section six of the Civil Union Act as it's important to ensure equality. The Select Committee then agreed to the Bill without any amendments," she said.

It also proposes a transitional period of 24 months to give the Department of Home Affairs sufficient time to train those officials that had been granted exemption by the minister.

It further requires that during this transitional period, a marriage officer other than those granted exemption, be available to solemnise a civil union at every Department of Home Affairs.

The ANC said it supported the Bill as it supports the Constitution in ensuring that the rights of all citizens are respected irrespective of race, religion or sexual orientation.

In 2018, COPE MP Deidre Carter tabled the Bill (as a private bill) seeking to have the "right of refusal" of state employed marriage officers taken away.

The Bill will now be sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa for his accession.

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