afrol News, 14 November - South Africa records its name among the countries in the world that legalise same sex marriages after the country's parliament today overwhelmingly voted in favour of the same sex unions bill. The bill got the approval of 230 deputies as compared to 41 who reject it.
South Africa has become the world's fifth country to legalise same sex marriages. Before being passed, the government removed the bill's language that had created separate categories for same and opposite sex unions.
The approved law - the Civil Union Act - allows voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnised and registered by either a marriage or civil union. Contrary to the Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the Civil Union Act gives right to gays and lesbians to marry.
Lesbian and gay rights groups had earlier threatened to repeat their successful challenge of the government in South Africa's constitutional court if it continued with its decision to allow only civil unions for same-sex couples.
A provision exists in the new law allowing churches to reject performing same-sex marriage. But despite this reservation, the South African gay and lesbian community received the news with joy.
"In large part, the Act signals a rejection of previous attempts to render lesbian and gay people as second-class citizens. It demonstrates powerfully the commitment of our law-makers to ensuring that all human beings are treated with dignity," Fikile Vilakazi, a spokesperson for 17 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) groups told '365Gay.com'.
The LGBT groups asked the South African government to harmonise the two laws to avoid confusion and further legal challenges.
"A parallel administrative system for the two statutes only increases the burden on state machinery and is likely to lead to confusion. In addition, it continues to reinforce the notion that there is a need to separate same-sex couples from other marriage forms, in some way," the groups said in a statement.
The South African Constitutional Court last year ruled that denying same-sex couples the rights of marriage was unconstitutional and that if the parliament fails to enact the bill by December, the law would be changed automatically to include same-sex unions.
Marie Fourie and Cecilia Bonthuys, who have been partners since 1994 but were unable to marry, took the case all the way to South Africa's highest court. They were later joined by seven other same-sex couples.
Interpreting definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman, the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2004 said the definition discriminated unfairly against same-sex couples.
Unsatisfied with the ruling, the government through the Home Affairs Ministry, filed an appealed to the Constitutional Court, arguing that the earlier ruling violated the rule of separation of powers of the parliament. But the court emphasised on the constitutional rights of sexual minorities not to be discriminated, ordering the government to change its marriage legislation.
South Africa decriminalised sodomy in 1998. The country's post-apartheid constitution became the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Following legal battles, this constitutional provision by now has led to equal rights for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, including the right to marry and adopt children.
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