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Wed, 15 Nov 2006
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CAPE TOWN
Green light for gay marriages

Wed, 15 Nov 2006

South Africa became the first country on the continent to legalise same sex marriages on Tuesday as the government vowed to banish discrimination in all its forms after the downfall of apartheid.

After an often heated debate, 230 lawmakers gave their final approval to the Civil Union Bill while 41 opposed it. There were three abstentions.

"In breaking with our past ... we need to fight and resist all forms of discrimination and prejudice, including homophobia," Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs in Cape Town.

Unjust painful past

"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," she added.

After the end of the apartheid era in 1994, during which black South Africans were denied the vote, a new constitution was drawn up specifically banning discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and sexual orientation.

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.

The bill which was approved on Tuesday is more liberal than an original draft, and provides explicitly for gays and lesbians to marry.

The overwhelming vote was guaranteed by the unanimous support of the ruling ANC, but the measure was vehemently denounced by smaller conservative parties.

Immorality justified?

"The ... (bill) justifies immorality and by inference, calls sexual perversion a legitimate alternative lifestyle that should be openly accepted," African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader Kenneth Meshoe said in the pre-vote debate in which he warned of divine wrath.

"God is not mocked," he said. "This Parliament ... is about to cross the line of God's patience with us as a nation."

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said that it was wrong to have separate laws for gays and lesbians and that all forms of marriage should be regulated in one piece of legislation.

The DA, which allowed its members a free vote, also criticised the ANC for issuing a whip to its members to vote en masse for the legislation.

"As a nation, we have a long way to go to eradicate discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation," said DA lawmaker Sandy Kalyan.

Historic step

The measure however was welcomed by the gay and lesbian campaigners as an historic step forwards.

The Joint Working Group, a national network of 17 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations said it "signals a rejection of previous attempts to render lesbian and gay people as second class citizens".

"It demonstrates powerfully the commitment of our lawmakers to ensuring that all human beings are treated with dignity," its spokesperson Fikile Vilakazi added in a statement.

The bill will now be sent to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence, largely a formality, before being rubberstamped by President Thabo Mbeki.

The Constitutional Court judgment requires the law to come into force by 1 December.

Gays and lesbians in Africa are routinely subjected to discrimination and homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries.

Robert Mugabe, president of neighbouring Zimbabwe, sparked outrage when he described gays as "worse than pigs and dogs" several years ago.

AFP

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