Wednesday, November 15, 2006

South African Parliment Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Can Illinois be far behind? The inevitable march to fairness. It's not nearly as dramatic as it seems. Like so much else in life, it's about standing up and doing the right thing, and trusting other adults to take care of their own relationships without governmental interference.

We saw a great quote the other day:

"Can I vote on your marriage?"

From The New York Times:
November 15, 2006

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 14 — Parliament on Tuesday voted resoundingly to legalize same-sex marriages in South Africa, making the nation the first in Africa and the fifth in the world to remove legal barriers to them, according to advocates.
The nation’s highest court ruled last December that South Africa’s marriage statute violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights. The court gave the government a year to alter the legal definition of marriage.
That left the government with three choices: legalize same-sex marriages, let the court change the law by fiat or alter the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Under the proposal approved by Parliament, heterosexual and same-sex couples could register marriages or civil partnerships. In a concession to critics, the law also would allow civil officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples if such marriages conflicted with their conscience.
If the measure is to become law, as both sides said they expected, it must be approved by the National Council of Provinces and signed by President Thabo Mbeki.
In many African nations, homosexuality is still treated as a crime. Some impose stiffer penalties for homosexual acts than for rape and murder.
And African leaders have regularly denounced homosexuality as immoral and a violation of the natural order and African culture.
Melanie Judge, the program manager for OUT, a gay rights advocacy group, said Parliament had taken a courageous stance in the face of strong political pressure.
Although some countries recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples, she said, only the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada now allow same-sex marriages.
Ms. Judge credits South Africa’s liberal Constitution with forcing change. “This has been a litmus test of our constitutional values,” she said. “It forced us to consider: What does equality really mean? What does it look like? Equality does not exist on a sliding scale.”
Religious groups and traditional leaders proposed to nullify the court ruling by amending the Constitution. But their bill to define marriage as being between a man and a woman died in parliamentary committee. Steve Swart, a legislator with the African Christian Democratic Party and a proponent of the constitutional amendment, said the Parliament had ignored the views of ordinary citizens — and international norms.
“We are out of step with the rest of Africa and with rest of world,” he said. “The international norm is civil unions, as opposed to same-sex marriages. What happened today conflicts with the views of the majority of South Africans.”
He attributed the 230-to-41 vote for the measure to whip-cracking by the governing party, the African National Congress. One party leader was quoted this month as saying that the A.N.C. expected its legislators to support the bill, regardless of their personal beliefs.
Vytjie Mentor, the party’s caucus chairman, told a South African newspaper, The Sunday Independent, that there was “no such thing as a free vote or a vote of conscience.”
“How do you give someone permission to discriminate in the name of the A.N.C.?” he said. “How do you allow for someone to vote against the Constitution and the policies of the A.N.C., which is antidiscrimination?”
Still, Ms. Judge, the gay rights advocate, said the new provision allowing civil officers to refuse to marry gay couples was unconstitutional and would provoke legal challenges.
“We can’t be in the situation where civil officers can decide who they want to marry and who they don’t want to marry,” she said. “They aren’t able to refuse to marry a black person and a white person. Why are same-sex couples different?”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

No comments: