Marriage officers must marry same-sex couples after new bill

The National Assembly on Thursday, December 6 2018, passed legislation which compels home affairs marriage officers to officiate same-sex marriages even if they object.
same sex The National Assembly on Thursday, December 6 2018, passed legislation which compels home affairs marriage officers to officiate same-sex marriages even if they object.
Image: 123RF/nito500

Home affairs marriage officers have to officiate same-sex marriages, even though they may object to them.

This after the National Assembly adopted the Civil Union Amendment Bill. It will now go to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.

It is the second bill sponsored by an opposition MP to be passed by the House.

The bill repeals section 6 of the Civil Union Act, which allowed a marriage officer to inform the minister that he or she objected to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex on the grounds of conscience, religion and belief.

Cope’s Deidre Carter, who sponsored the bill, said the amendment went beyond the mere repeal of section 6 of the principal act.

“It touches upon the genesis of our constitutional order. It touches that which is most sacrosanct in our constitution, our bill of rights and the right to equality and dignity:  that the state may not unfairly discriminate and that it has the responsibility to promote, respect and fulfil these rights,” she said during the debate to pass the legislation.

Carter described the amendment as a timely reminder of the ethos that should inform the provision of government service, and of the values and principles that should inform the morality of those seeking to become civil servants.

“It says that 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 — or if you refuse to be subjected to performance appraisals,” she said

The National Freedom Party (NFP), the African Independent Congress (AIC) and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) were the only parties to object to the bill.

The NFP’s Sibusiso Mncwabe rejected the bill on behalf of his party after complaining that despite them representing a large section of the population and having different beliefs, traditional leaders were not consulted.

The AIC’s Lulama Ntshayisa charged that instead of passing an amendment bill, parliament should be repealing the Civil Union Act. Ntshayisa said his party did not support the original law and the amendment because they did not believe that same-sex marriages were “our culture”, or anybody’s culture.

He added that marriage between people of same sex was a taboo.

“We don’t say people shouldn’t do what they want, but the government shouldn’t be involved to enable such,” said Ntshayisa.

The ACDP lashed out, saying that there seemed to be broader agenda to put churches and religious bodies under pressure. ACDP president Kenneth Meshoe said he would not be surprised if the section protecting rights of churches and religions would be “targeted next”.

Meshoe criticised same-sex marriages saying “the first marriage was between Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve”.

In her speech, Carter had anticipated Meshoe’s objection.

“To the ACDP, I wish to point out that to my thinking there is dissonance between your religious stance and aversion to gay and lesbian rights and the ethos of most of the world’s religions, which advocate love, tolerance and acceptance of all. Nonetheless, I reiterate that this amendment does not affect religious-order marriage officers,” she said.

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