Gay organisations have reacted to the revised Civil Union Bill, which is expected to be passed by Parliament on Tuesday this week.
Until the recent changes to the Bill, the proposed legislation was almost universally condemned by LGBT organisations because it would not provide same-sex couples with “real” marriage laws.
However, the new version of the Bill adopted by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs last week, allows these civil union partnerships (which can be applied to heterosexual or same-sex couples) to be called “marriage” should the couple wish to call it that.
It defines a civil union as “the voluntary union of two persons who are both 18yrs of age or older, which is solemnized and registered by way of either a marriage or a civil partnership, in accordance with the procedures prescribed in this [Civil Union] Act, to the exclusion, while it lasts, of all others.”
While Pretoria’s OUT believes that this is a step forward, other organisations are not convinced. In statement issued by Triangle Project, the Cape Town based organisation says that it rejects the Bill outright.
“I find that the newly drafted Bill still presents two separate institutions for marriage and still pushes the ‘separate but equal’ agenda we’ve been fighting against,” says Vista Kalipa, Media Co-ordinator for Triangle Project. “If it’s going to be called a marriage, then everyone should be governed by an all encompassing law, such as the Marriage Act and not create two separate institutions for the same thing,” he says.
Jonathon Berger of The National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality has also rejected the bill, seeing it as discriminatory in that it creates a separate law for same-sex couples. “The setting up of parallel structures is problematic in giving heterosexual couples [the right] to choose civil marriages or religious marriages and giving same sex couples one option,” said Berger according to 365Gay.com.
He also warned that certain provisions of the Bill may be unconstitutional.
OUT’s Melanie Judge however is a little more positive about the Bill, saying that “OUT’s position is that we welcome the amended Bill in so far as it now recognises same-sex marriage, in both word and content.”
But, like Berger, Judge also believes that “certain sections of the Bill, particularly Section 6 that allows civil marriage officers to refuse to marry same sex couples” may be unconstitutional and therefore liable to legal challenge.”
Judge called on parliament to work toward integrating all civil marriages under one Act as, “we see no rational reason for separate laws that govern the same institution,” she said.