Although same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since 2006, a certain section of the Civil Union Act (Act No. 17 of 2006) has allowed for a marriage officer to refuse to marry a same-sex couple based on religious reasons, or the basis of conscience of belief.
When Deirdre Carter, a member of Parliament for the Congress of the People (Cope), put a private members’ bill before Parliament last Wednesday, it was met with overwhelming support.
Section 6 of the Civil Union Act was first brought to Carter’s attention after it came to light that there were same-sex couples finding it difficult to get married as marriage officials were refusing to officiate the wedding ceremony. She told the African News Agency that she was aware of a couple who tried to get married in Port Elizabeth, where they were rejected. They then tried to be married in Uitenhage, but were rejected there as well. Eventually they had to travel all the way to Grahamstown – only here did they find a marriage official who agreed to officiate their wedding ceremony.
In another instance, another couple tried to get married in Durban – one of South Africa’s biggest cities – and were turned away. The couple was made subject to various derogatory terms and were sworn at.
Carter said that the exemption made for officiates to refuse to marry same-sex couples was unconstitutional.
“Now, surely it cannot be constitutionally acceptable or permissible that a public servant can be exempted on any ground from providing a service to anyone in the country,” she said to the African News Agency (ANA).
It was also revealed that out of the 1 130 marriage officers working for South African government, a total of 421 had been exempted from marrying same-sex couples.
This has spurned members of Parliament to agree to set up a subcommittee that will make amendments to the Civil Union Act that will abolish Section 6 altogether.