Tuesday, November 14, 2006

SSM Getting Down in Cape Town

South Africa has joined Canada and a few European countries in legalizing same-sex marriage. Rather, the legislation it passed today makes marriage or civil unions gender neutral.

It is difficult to imagine a more socially conservative nation such as ours doing this anytime soon. The South African law needs a pro forma provincial approval before being signed into law.

The wire-service report said the legislation passed by a surprising 230 to 41 votes, with three abstentions. There was no word on whether opponents would file suit claiming it is unconstitutional.

This came in the form of a Civil Union Bill to the National Assembly. It allows a "voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union." It does not specify gender. It also gives government marriage officials the option of refusing performing same-sex unions for "conscience, religion and belief."

The ruling African National Congress supported it. During debate, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the legislators, "When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust painful past, by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed culture and sex."

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Anonymous said...

Did SA already have both civil unions and marriage? I'm confused as to why both are mentioned, if real marriage is now open to gays. With the out for officials whose 'conscience' won't allow them to officiate, is the idea that the officials can basically all refuse to grant marriages and instead offer civil unions as the only remaining option? I find the news blurb maddeningly confusing.

massmarrier said...

You're quite right. It is fascinating and quite odd. What the formal law change to match the court decision, it makes marriage and civil union (civil contract) much the same. Pick what you want, straight or gay.

I suspect the conscience clause will appear in numerous countries as SSM spreads. It must be a way of grandparenting this for the intractable sorts. As a Boomer, I guess I'm in that fogey class.

Canada gave a very short period for the old hands to come on board with the new program. It looks like in some countries, the long-term marriage officiators will get a bye. I'll bet newly appointed ones will have to agree to obey the law and marry those who ask.