Amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic much-needed change in the LGBTQ+ community of South Africa occurred.
The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, signed into law an amendment to the Civil Union Act, 17 of 2006 (“Civil Union Act”), further giving effect to the rights of same sex partners to enter into a civil union without any unfair discrimination. The need to change the law arose due to same sex partners being sent away from the Department of Home Affairs in the event that only marriage officers who objected to the solemnising of same sex civil unions were available.
Section 6 of the Civil Union Act gave marriage officers the option to object to solemnising same sex unions in circumstances where it was against their religious beliefs or where they had a conscientious objection.
The Civil Union Amendment Act, 2020 (“Amendment Act”) , which came into immediate effect on 22 October 2020, repealed section 6 of the Civil Union Act in its entirety and provides that marriage officers can no longer refuse to solemnise a union between same sex partners.
The Amendment Act provides that the Minister of Home Affairs must ensure that a marriage officer is always available to solemnise a civil union at every Department of Home Affairs. However, this does not apply to marriage officers referred to in section 5 of the Civil Union Act, which include marriage officers such as Ministers of Religion and other persons attached to a religious denomination or organisation.
This is a step in the right direction in the sense of putting the civil union of same sex partners on an equal footing as a marriage between heterosexual partners.
Author: Monique Botha