South Africa: Civil Union Bill; A Step Short of Full Equality for Same Sex Couples

South Africa- OUT LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Well-being expresses disappointment at the Civil Union Bill which is presently before parliament.

The Bill falls short of granting full marriage to same sex couples. We believe that the Bill does not honour the Constitutional Court judgment,which affirms that both the symbolic and legal equality of marriage should be extended to same sex couples. The fact that the State Legal Adviser has declined to certify the current version of the Bill, is a further cause for concern. It is against the advise of the SLA that the Ministry is pushing forward the Bill, adding further doubt to its constitutionality.

Whilst the Bill introduces a 'civil partnership' for same sex couples, which appears to provide the same legal benefits and protections to marriage, it would effectively still deny lesbian and gay people the right to enter into the institution of marriage.

Fikile Vilakazi, OUT's advocacy officer, states that "'Civil partnerships'will mean the administration of a separate legal structure for same sex couples. This sends out a message that gay and lesbian people are second
class citizens. The civil partnership option should be provided in addition to marriage, not as a replacement to it."

However, OUT does commend the section of the Bill that relates to domestic partnerships, in so far at it extends legal protections to unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Melanie Judge, OUT's programme manager says "We call on parliament to interrogate the implications of the Civil Union Bill for same-sex couples, and to engage lesbian and gay people in the process of public participation as it is our equality and dignity that is ultimately at stake here."

In passing new legislation for same sex couples, parliament will need to comply with the sentiments expressed by the Court, and be guided by our constitutional imperative. "..whatever legislative remedy is chosen must be as generous and accepting towards same-sex couples as it is to heterosexual couples, both in terms of the intangibles as well as the tangibles involved.

In a context of patterns of deep past discrimination and continuing homophobia, appropriate sensitivity must be shown to providing a remedy that is truly and manifestly respectful of the dignity of same-sex couples."
Justice Albie Sach, Constitutional Court judgment on same sex marriage, 1December 2005.

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Issued by OUT LGBT Well-being.

OUT is a registered South African non profit organisation that provides mental and sexual health service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. OUT also engages in advocacy, research and mainstreaming programmes aimed at reducing homophobia.

For more information contact:
Fikile Vilakazi, Advocacy Officer: 083 2949720
Melanie Judge, Programme Manager: 083 2712543
Dawie Nel, Director: 083 3792488

OUT LGBT Well-being
Tel : + 27 (0)12 344 6501
Fax : + 27 (0)12 344 6501
Cell : 083 2712543
E-mail : programmes@out.org.za