Africa: Joint Statement - South African Human Rights' Organisations on Same Sex Marriage

On 1 December 2005 the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that the exclusion of same sex couples from the institution of marriage infringes their right to dignity, equality and privacy. The Court has presented Parliament with an historic opportunity to deepen its commitment to human rights. This calls for a recognition of same sex marriage which carries equal legal and social status. By doing so, we realise the promise of equality which lies at the heart of our historical struggle against all forms of discrimination.

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality has long been part of the human rights agenda and liberation struggle in South Africa. As far back as 1987 Thabo Mbeki, then Director of Information for the ANC, wrote that "The ANC is indeed very firmly committed to removing all forms of discrimination and oppression in a liberated South Africa….That commitment must surely extend to the protection of gay rights". This promise was partly realised in South Africa’s landmark post-apartheid Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. With this brave step, South Africa set a standard for the world to follow, calling on our citizens to transcend old divisions and prejudices.

LGBT equality can coexist alongside religious freedom. In line with our history and our Constitution, the Department of Home Affairs has drafted a Marriage Amendment Bill (1 August, 2006, available at capable of balancing LGBT equality and religious freedom. The Bill’s gender-neutral definition of marriage would finally permit LGBT people in South Africans to socially and legally sanction their relationships under the existing marriage law. The enactment of the Bill will not require religious institutions to recognize same sex marriages nor will it require officials to marry same sex couples. In this way everyone is protected and treated with equal respect.

The Constitutional Court judgment on same sex marriage asserted that, "What is at stake is not simply a question of removing an injustice experienced by a particular section of the community. At issue is a need to affirm the very character of our society as one based on tolerance and mutual respect".

As members of the human rights community, we call on our country’s leadership to adopt the current Department of Home Affair’s draft Marriage Amendment Bill (1 August, 2006).

This statement is endorsed by the following organisations:

Women’s Legal Centre; AIDS Law Project; Centre for Applied Legal Studies; Law Race and Gender Unit, University of Cape Town; Gender Equity Unit, University of the Western Cape; Gender, Health & Justice Research, University of the Western Cape; Women’sNet; People Opposing Women Abuse; Engender; Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre; OUT LGBT Well-being; Gay and Lesbian Archives; Inner Circle; Triangle Project; Reforming Church; Activate; South African Youth Liberating Organisation; LEGBO; Genderdynamix; Behind the Mask; Hope and Unity Metropolitan Community Church; Siyazenzela; Out in Africa; JewishOUTlook; Forum for the Empowerment of Women; Pietermaritzberg Gay and Lesbian Network; 1in9 Campaign

For more information contact:

Fikile Vilakazi, OUT LGBT Well-being on 011 3445108 or 083 2949720 or Beth Goldblatt, Centre for Applied Legal Studies on 082 927 8577