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South Africa Wants to Ban Refusal to Marry Same-sex Couples
(Blogmensgo, gay blog of August 27, 2018) The South African Parliament’s Committee on Internal Affairs has unanimously adopted an amendment to paragraph 6 of the Civil Unions Act 2006, which has so far allowed any registrar to oppose same-sex weddings on the grounds of religion, conscience or personal conviction. Deirdre Carter, Member of Parliament from the Cope Party, had tabled the amendment on 15 August 2018. She argues that it is against the constitution to refuse gay or lesbian weddings without valid legal grounds.
The contentious MP has found in her home province of KwaZulu-Natal that many gay and lesbian couples are forced to marry further away from where they live, simply because the local registrar refuses to marry them.
Of the 1,130 registrars who are allowed to perform civil weddings in South Africa, 421 have been exempted from the obligation to do so. Only 28.6 percent of the registry offices have civil servants who do not mind marrying gays and lesbians.
Some of the homophobic officials do not shy away from insulting same-sex couples or making snide remarks against them before refusing marriage. Carter notes that many Christian officials refuse to marry gay couples for religious reasons, although they do marry Muslim or atheistic heterosexual couples.
A parliamentary subcommittee will now propose a series of amendments to repeal paragraph 6 of the relevant 2006 law because it violates the provisions of paragraphs 9 and 10 of Chapter 1 of the Constitution concerning equality and human dignity.
The Constitutional Court had already ruled before 2006 that it was unconstitutional for the state, the administration and companies to grant heterosexual couples the advantage of marriage without granting it to homosexual couples. However, the “right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion” granted by the Constitution is subordinate to the other provisions of the Constitution.
However, the repeal of paragraph 6 may take some time, as some of its elements also relate to other laws and regulations.
Religious ministers may stay homophobic
While the Parliamentary Committee has stated that the Constitution takes precedence over all other laws that violate the fundamental rights of same-sex couples, the work of the subcommittee charged with amending the law will take some time. In order to do justice to same-sex couples who are willing to marry in the meantime, the parliamentary committee has called on the Ministry of the Interior to ensure that no same-sex couple is prevented from marrying by appropriate mechanisms for the time being.
Of course, the planned changes only affect civil marriages, so that the relevant religious dignitaries still do not have to hold church weddings or other religious weddings if they do not want to.