South Africa passes same-sex marriage

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Homosexuality still taboo on continent

Critics call move `sad' and `satanic'

CLARE NULLIS - ASSOCIATED PRESS - November 15th 2006.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—South African lawmakers passed legislation recognizing gay marriages yesterday despite criticism from both traditionalists and gay activists.

The bill, unprecedented on a continent where homosexuality is taboo, was decried by gay activists for not going far enough and by opponents who warned it "was provoking God's anger.''

Veterans of the governing African National Congress praised the Civil Union Bill for extending basic freedoms to everyone under the spirit of the country's first post-apartheid constitution adopted a decade ago.

"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 colour, creed, culture and sex," Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula declared yesterday.

South Africa's constitution was the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, providing a powerful legal tool to gay rights activists even though South Africa remains conservative on such issues.

A Christian lawmaker, Kenneth Meshoe, said yesterday was the "saddest day in our 12 years of democracy" and warned that South Africa "was provoking God's anger.''

Homosexuality is illegal in most sub-Saharan countries. Some countries also are debating constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages. Even in South Africa, gays and lesbians are often attacked because of their sexual orientation.

One church leader in Nigeria, Apostle Abraham Umoh of the Mount of Victory Mission, denounced the vote as "satanic."

The Roman Catholic Church and many traditionalist leaders in South Africa said the measure denigrated the sanctity of marriages between men and women.

To ease some of these concerns, the bill allowed both religious and civil officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples on moral grounds.

The National Assembly passed the bill 230-41 with three abstentions.


Lesbian couple Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe, right, show off their engagement rings as they pose for a photo graph on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg yesterday. South Africa passed a bill recognizing gay marriage.


Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and most other sub-Saharan countries. Some countries are debating constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages. Even in South Africa, gays and lesbians often are attacked because of their sexual orientation.

One church leader in Nigeria, Apostle Abraham Umoh of the Mount of Victory Mission, denounced the vote as "satanic."

The Roman Catholic Church and many traditionalist leaders in South Africa said the measure denigrated the sanctity of marriages between men and women.

To ease some of those concerns, the bill would allow both religious and civil officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples on moral grounds.

Gay-rights groups criticized that "opt-out" clause, saying they should be treated the same as heterosexual couples, but in general they praised the new measure.

"It demonstrates powerfully the commitment of our lawmakers to ensuring that all human beings are treated with dignity," said Fikile Vilakazi of the Joint Working Group, a national network of 17 gay and lesbian organizations.

The bill provides for the "voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union," without specifying whether they are heterosexual or homosexual partnerships.

The National Assembly passed the bill 230-41. The measure now goes to the National Council of Provinces, which is expected to be a formality, before being signed into law by President Thabo Mbeki.

The bill was drafted to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling last December that said existing marriage legislation was unconstitutional because it discriminated against same-sex couples. The court set a Dec. 1 deadline for parliament to change the law.

Rather than change existing marriage laws, the government introduced the additional civil union bill, hoping that would be the speediest option.


Clergy's anger at gay marriage law

WENDELL ROELF AND CELEAN JACOBSON IN JOHANNESBURG

SOUTH Africa's parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill yesterday to make the nation the first on the continent to legalise gay marriage.

The bill was pushed through the National Assembly by the ruling African National Congress amid protests by religious groups and opposition parties in a region where homosexuality remains largely taboo.

The cabinet approved the bill in August after the country's highest court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry.

The court gave parliament until 1 December to change the law. The Civil Union Bill, which gives same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones, still needs approval by the second house of parliament. However, it is expected to come into effect by the end of November.

When enacted, South Africa will accord homosexual couples over the age of 18 the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, following countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada.

"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 colour, creed, culture and sex," Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the home affairs minister, told parliament.

Yesterday, Lindiwe Radebe and Bathini Dambuza welcomed the news. Engaged for a year, they now want to take their relationship to the next step.

The couple from Soweto hope to be among the first gay people to take advantage of the new law. "I can't wait," said Ms Radebe, 25, an activist with the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, which supports black lesbians.

Ms Dambuza, 22, a tour guide, wears an engagement ring that Ms Radebe gave her about a year after they met.

Getting married will change their lives, they said. "For some people marriage means nothing, it is just a piece of paper. But we want that symbolism of having a legally binding document of our love," said Ms Radebe.

The couple are keen to have children and hope that by getting married it will be easier to adopt or become parents.

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