President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed the Civil Union Amendment Bill during Pride month, spurning calls from bigots to reject the legislation. It’s a welcome move that should improve access to same-sex marriage around the country.
Ramaphosa signed the bill on 20 October and it was officially published as law in the Government Gazette on Thursday.
The law removes the provision in the Civil Union Act that allowed government-employed marriage officers at the Department of Home Affairs to refuse to solemnise same-sex unions or marriages because of their personal religious or moral objections.
The provision resulted in same-sex couples being treated as second class citizens and being turned away from Home Affairs offices that could not offer officials to provide the service. In a September 2016 report, MambaOnline found that only 26% of branches in the country would marry same-sex couples.
Home Affairs will now have a 24-month transition period in which to train officials who’d previously been granted permission by the minister to refuse to solemnise same-sex marriages or unions. During that period, however, every Home Affairs branch must ensure that it can offer the service to same-sex couples.
In a statement, OUT LGBT Well-being, welcomed the signing of the Civil Union Amendment Bill by President Ramaphosa.
“Many couples faced discrimination at Home Affairs offices and some couples were also forced to travel to other provinces because marriage officers refused to solemnise their unions,” commented OUT’s Hate Crime Manager, Roché Kester, who also manages the Love Not Hate programme.
“This is a definite victory for the LGBTI community and a testament that when the community stands together, great things can be achieved to further the rights of the community and to call out injustice that is discriminatory,” said Kester.
She added: “We will continue to monitor whether same-sex couples have any difficulties at Home Affairs offices and we will take the necessary action to ensure that the provisions of the Civil Union Amendment Act are enforced.”
The Civil Union Amendment Act was first introduced as a private members bill by then MP Deidre Carter in January 2018. It was passed by Parliament in July of this year.
While conservative groups say the law will violate the right to religious freedom of Home Affairs officials, human rights activists argue that it is necessary to end a discriminatory and unconstitutional provision.