TV & Radio
Final seal of approval for South Africa gay marriage law
by Mariette le Roux
Thu Nov 30, 7:13 AM ET
CAPE TOWN (AFP) - South Africa has become the first country on the continent to authorise marriage for gay and lesbian couples after the controversial civil union bill received the final seal of approval.
The legislation, approved by parliament earlier this month, was signed on to the statute book Thursday by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in her capacity as acting head of state while Thabo Mbeki attends a conference in Nigeria.
"Acting President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has signed into law the Civil Union Act, 2006," the president's office said in a statement.
"The act will come into operation on 30 November 2006," it added.
The legislation, which allows for civil unions to be solemnised by way of either a marriage or a civil partnership, had been widely opposed by religious groups, conservatives and traditionalists.
But news that the bill had finally become law was greeted enthusiastically by gay and lesbian pressure groups.
"The use of the word 'marriage' in the act is very important for us," said Fikile Vilakazi, spokeswoman for the Joint Working Group, a network of 17 lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender organisations.
"We are very happy. We welcome the political commitment shown by the country's leaders.
"It is an historic decision in terms of the African continent."
The government has defended the new legislation for representing a wider commitment to battle discrimination.
"We welcome the Civil Union Act as breaking new ground for a democracy like South Africa," the home affairs department said on Thursday.
"We are hopeful this act will level the playing field by ensuring equality and restoring the dignity of this marginalised minority in South Africa," said spokesman Jacky Mashapu.
The government was forced to legislate on same sex marriage after the country's highest court ruled in December that existing laws denied gays and lesbians the same constitutional rights as heterosexual couples.
After the end of the apartheid era in 1994, during which black South Africans were denied the vote, a new constitution was drawn up banning discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and sexual orientation.
Last year's court ruling set a December 1 deadline for the government to enact new legislation.
"The act is in line with the constitutional court judgment ... which found that the common law definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, 1961, is inconsistent with the constitution of the Republic of South Africa," said the presidency office statement.
The clear passage of the bill was guaranteed with the ruling African National Congress imposing a three-line whip on its members of parliament to support the legislation.
Conservative opposition parties have, however, railed against the law.
Kenneth Meshoe, leader the African Christian Democratic Party, said its enactment ran against the wishes of the majority of South Africans.
"We are obviously very disappointed. What has happened has proved that the wishes of the majority of South Africans are not taken seriously by the majority party," he told AFP.
Homosexuality, he added, was sinful and perverse and "against God's order for mankind, against God's plan for marriage and families.
"God intended Adam to be married to Eve and not to Steve."