South Africa: New Constitution Protects Gays and Lesbians

On 8 May 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to constitutionally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The new South African Constitution protects people from discrimination on the basis of "race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth."

The Constitution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the South African Parliament, winning the approval of the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan African Congress and the National Party. The ANC, which holds over sixty percent of the seats in parliament, has consistently taken a position against discrimination based on sexual orientation, partly as a result the years of involvement of gay and lesbian activists in the anti-apartheid struggle. Archbishop Desmond Tutu strongly urged the constitutional assembly to retain the clause in the Bill of Rights and recently stated that rejection of gays and lesbians by the church is "nearly the ultimate blasphemy."

The only party to vote against the Constitution was the African Christian Democratic Party, which explicitly cited the retention of the sexual orientation clause and the right to abortion, stating that "the family is the most important building block of the society.... The constitution supports the dissolution of the family, supports criminals and those involved in unnatural lifestyles, and will inevitably lead to an increase in homelessness and street children." Prior to the vote, on Friday May 3, over 8000 Christians and Muslims marched to parliament, opposing the inclusion of sexual orientation and the right to abortion in the bill of rights.

The permanent constitution replaces an interim constitution which had been in place since 1993 and which also included sexual orientation in its equality clause. The retention of the clause in the final document follows two years of intense lobbying efforts and a nationwide letter-writing campaign coordinated by the National Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Equality.

Send letters of congratulations to:

National Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Equality
PO Box 1984
Joubert Park 2044
South Africa
Fax: +27-11-229-7762