Wednesday, November 15, 2006

And now there are five....

....countries that recognise same-sex marriage.

With yesterday's passing of the Civil Union Bill, South Africa joins Canada, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Spain as countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

It can certainly be argued that the Bill still allows for discrimination in that it provides for equal but separate ways of getting married depending on whether a couple is gay or straight. But, as Johannesburg's Business Day put it in their editorial:

Do the means matter, as long as the end is the same? Can separate ever be equal?

It is possible that these questions will still have to be answered by the Constitutional Court, despite the legislature's best efforts to find the middle road. Government appears to have recognised that the compromise position is not ideal in the long term. Patrick Chauke, who chairs Parliament's home affairs committee, is already talking of the need for a comprehensive review of the marriage laws, whether or not the Civil Union Bill ends up before the Constitutional Court again.

In an ideal world, one law should cater for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual persuasion. But it was probably wise for the lawmakers to take into account the fact that SA is not an especially tolerant society -- our diversity may make living here infinitely more interesting than it is in more homogenous states, but there are downsides too. The Civil Union Bill could be seen in the same way as some of the political reforms that were introduced in the dying days of the apartheid era. They did not go nearly far enough, but served as a means of persuading a conservative society to accept long-overdue change without provoking avoidable conflict. The sky did not fall in, and racial attitudes have progressed rapidly since then.

If the Civil Union Act serves to extend an existing right to more South Africans, while at the same time placating traditionalists, it would be churlish to be overly critical of its means of doing so.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was wonderful news - progress is progress! Now I just have to hope that we can make some progress here in the United States, too. While I have zero desire to be "married", I'd like the right to be if I change my mind, or to have my friends who want to be married be able to do so. Seperate is NEVER equal if you ask me. But, then again, I'm a critical theorist! I think passing this bill is very enlightened...

4:10 am  
Blogger DougZAR said...

Right, now if I can only remember where I last saw my 'soul mate', I'll be off to the courts. Seriously. Does anyone remember seeing him?

6:09 am  
Blogger Caroline said...

So you don't count the civil partnership thing here in the UK as close enough?

I would as all I wanted out of marraiage was legal acceptance of us as a couple (especially for financial purposes when one of us dies) and a good excuse for a party!

And as a non-Christian this meant non-church so I'd say my marriage, though not homosexual, wasn't a lot different from a civil partnership and in some ways I'd've preferred it to have been called that - I'd rather have a partnership than a marriage with that tradition of inequality that still lurks inside the concept.

Neither of us wears a ring - its not like we own each other...

8:29 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

J. David Zacko-Smith: I’m sure that a lot of gays, like you, don’t want to get married but it’s good to have the option there. It’s odd how the homophobes want to keep all that suffering that comes with marriage to themselves – you’d think them only to happy to let gays suffer similarly.

DougZAR: I thought your soulmate was Jesse who recently returned from being AWOL for a few days? :-)

Caroline: The UK civil partnership approximates marriage very closely but it still creates a distinction between the two systems. In a nutshell, it does not allow gays to use the term ‘marriage’ when it comes to a legal union.

Although my wife wears one, I’ve never worn a wedding ring either. Not out of not wanting to be seen as ‘owned’ or unavailable but I think a ring on my finger would make me look very clerical (pertaining to the clergy as opposed to clerks).

11:10 am  
Blogger Caroline said...

I was relly wondering why anyone would care about it being a "marriage" - I think being recognised as a legal partnership is much better!

2:13 pm  
Blogger Qenny said...

I'm puzzled. It sounds, from reading the stuff that you've quoted, as if the bill that has been passed is very similar to the one in the UK. I'm not sure I understand the difference.

The Civil Union Bill in NZ, which came into effect in April of this year, and under which myself and my husband tied the knot, does a reasonable job of addressing the thorny issues of whether it is discriminatory or not. Two people can be united under that law regardless of their sex. In fact, the first couple of take advantage of it were straight. Of course, that still means that the marriage word isn't used for civil union partnerships, but it sounds like that's the same with this new SA law, no?

8:50 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Caroline: I suppose many of us (not me!!) are quite conventional and like the thought of doing things that the rest of society does. That’s why some gay people say things like ‘why should we emulate what straight people do when we’re not straight?’

They have a point but they miss the point too.

Qenny: I think they’re very similar, if not identical, apart from being able to use the words ‘marry’, ‘marriage’, ‘spouse’, ‘husband’, etc. So, yes, it’s the use of those words that makes it different from the UK and NZ varieties of the law.

11:06 am  

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