Marriage in South Africa - true equality at last?
Although the objections came quite late in the year, they came from the expected quarters, ie the religious and traditionalist bigots. In the past few months, South Africa's top legal minds have been grappling with how to comply with the Constitutional Court ruling yet not upset those against it too much.
A report on the whole issue was repressed until quite recently. Now that it has surfaced, one of its rather novel ideas, one that could keep most people happy, has emerged:
The solution ultimately proposed by commissioners is novel and creative, and for that alone, it is a mercy that publication of the report has been permitted.
Take the existing Marriage Act, they say, and fix it by adding a simple phrase so it will apply to heterosexual as well as homosexual couples. Then introduce a new law, that could be called, for example, the Orthodox Marriage Act, and make this law for the exclusive use of partners wanting to marry under religious rites and who have problems using the generic marriage law. This new law would be identical to the updated and now all-embracing "old" law, except for the addition of a limited definition of "orthodox marriage" -- and for being limited to opposite-sex couples.
Couples could then choose to marry under the law that most suited their religious, moral and other views.
It doesn't seem as if that route will be adopted as the Civil Unions Bill is still on the cards, a route described by some Constitutional Court judges as inadequate in guaranteeing true equality as it makes for a 'separate but equal' status. The way things stand at the moment, religious groups opposed to the term "marriage" in the Civil Unions Bill are set to lose their battle after the National Assembly's home affairs committee adopted the African National Congress's (ANC) amended version of the Bill on Wednesday (8/11/2006).
"Civil-union partner means a spouse in a marriage or a partner in a civil partnership," reads the amended Bill, in defiance of religious groups' demands.
It will be interesting to see if the law gets passed as is to be followed by later legal challenges as to its fairness in the eyes of last year's Constitutional Court ruling.
But, whether it gets challenged or not, and whether any such challenge is successful or not, South Africa is on the brink of legalising the rights of gay and lesbian unions.
A truly remarkable achievement!