Same-sex couples now have equal marriage rights (to heterosexual couples). Finally, wow. In the past, home affairs officials would be allowed to refuse to marry same-sex couples. But on Thursday 6 December, the National Assembly passed a bill to end that discrimination. It’s called the Civil Union Amendment Bill.
How Widespread is Homophobia in Home Affairs?
According to EWN, two-thirds of home affairs offices refuse to marry same-sex couples. 38% of the 409 marriage officers are exempt from officiating over same-sex marriages, due to a provision (section 6 of the Civil Act) that will be repealed by the new bill. News24 explains that the provision allowed an officer to object or refuse to officiate “on the ground of conscience, religion, and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex”.
In other words, less than a third of home affairs officers have been willing to marry same-sex couples. That’s how widespread homophobia still is, even in legal spaces.
Deidre Carter (who sponsored the bill) says: “The provision offends the right of same-sex couples to equality and human dignity in the Bill of Rights”
How Long Until The Bill is Implemented Properly?
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, whether you’re gay, lesbian, trans or non-binary, needs to become a thing of the past. Particularly when in the eyes the law. But we’re not quite there yet. This amendment will only be implemented in two years time, allowing for a transitional period for officers to be trained. It also will not affect religious leaders who are not employed by the state; they may still choose not to marry same-sex couples.
In the meantime, the minister of home affairs must ensure that there’s a marriage officer (other than the officers who’ve been exempt under section 6) at every home affairs office, in order to marry every same-sex couple without discrimination.
The Civil Union Amendment Bill will be adopted by The Portfolio Committee of Home Affairs today at Parliament!
— SaVee_TheSwartz 👭❤🏳️🌈🇿🇦 (@SwartzVaivi) November 28, 2018
Why Is This Bill So Important And Overdue?
Well, Carter makes the following comparison: “if you are employed as a nurse, for example, it is wrong to contend that it is not your duty to remove and clean the bedpans of one’s patients, or to feed them… It is wrong to seek employment as a teacher if you won’t treat all children equally or fairly regardless of race or creed”.
Like teachers or nurses, home affairs officers are civil servants. Being employed by the state, we have the right not to be discriminated against by them on the grounds of race, creed or sexual orientation.
While certain political parties have objected to the bill, this is still a victory for the LGBTQIA community and for South Africa.
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