South Africa: Civil Union Amendment Bill adopted by parliamentary committee

In a victory for LGBTIQ equality and same-sex couples in South Africa, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament has adopted the Civil Union Amendment Bill.

The move is a major step in the proposed legislation’s journey to becoming law. The Bill aims to remove Section 6 of the Civil Union Act which allows Home Affairs officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the grounds of their “conscience, religion [or] belief”.

The Private Member’s Bill was introduced by Cope MP Deidre Carter in January in response to increasing numbers of same-sex couples who were turned away from Home Affairs offices when they attempted to marry due to a lack of willing marriage officers.

According to Home Affairs, more than half of the 692 Home Affairs marriage officers are exempted from marrying lesbian and gay couples. In fact, out of 412 branches, only 111 have marriage officers willing to marry same-sex couples.

In August, the Bill was deemed desirable by the Home Affairs Committee. After a second call for written submissions, there was also overwhelming support from the community at large.

On Wednesday, the committee unanimously approved Carter’s Bill, with some amendments. Two “transitional provision” clauses were added, allowing exemptions granted before the adoption of the Bill to remain in force, but only for a period of 24 months. This means that current Home Affairs officials who were previously allowed to opt of out of marrying same-sex couples will be able to continue do so for two years. This was a compromise added to the Bill to address concerns by Home Affairs about implementation. Any new staff employed by the department, however, will no longer have the option to opt out of marrying same-sex couples. Read more via Mamba