New bill provides recognition of domestic partnerships whether same or different sex.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa The South African parliament is expected to approve same-sex marriages later this year, despite opposition from church groups.
The Cabinet on Aug. 23 agreed to send the Civil Unions Bill to parliament.
This follows a Constitutional Court judgment which found that the common law definition of marriage in the Marriage Act of 1961 was unconstitutional because it failed to give the same status, benefits and responsibilities to same-sex unions that marriage accorded to heterosexual couples.
The new bill provides for the recognition of domestic partnerships between adults, whether same or different sex. A cabinet statement issued Aug. 24 said the bill “was likely to generate a lot of public debate but at the end of the day, the decision of the Constitutional Court must be respected by everyone.”
Church leaders have protested against the court ruling and warned they will seek to have the proposals amended during the passage through parliament.
The Marriage Alliance said it is planning a march in seven cities on Sept. 16 to demonstrate against the moves and “protect marriage in its traditional form.”
The alliance said it would lobby Parliament for a constitutional amendment that would ensure that marriage in its traditional form between a man and woman is protected. At the same time the alliance would also call for additional legislation to protect the rights of same-sex couples in permanent relationships.
However, the ruling African National Congress has a huge majority in parliament, which is expected to approve the act before the end of the year.
Homosexuality remains largely taboo throughout Africa and South Africa would become the first country on the continent to legalize same-sex unions.
South Africa recognized the rights of gay people in the constitution adopted after apartheid ended in 1994 the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But government previously opposed attempts to extend the definition of marriage in court to include same-sex couples in the mostly Christian country.
Married couples have numerous rights still denied to gay couples, including the ability to make decisions on each other’s behalf in medical emergencies, and inheritance rights if a partner dies without a will.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.