The Congress of the People welcomes the adoption by the National Assembly of the Civil Union Amendment Bill, a private member’s bill initiated by its chief Whip in Parliament, Deidre Carter.
The Civil Union Act which was adopted by Parliament in 2006 paved the way for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
It however allowed for designated marriage offices in the employ of the state to apply to be exempted from officiating and solemnizing same-sex marriages on the grounds of conscience, religion, and belief.
More than half of the Department of Home Affairs designated marriage officers had applied for and been granted exemption, and this resulted in many same-sex couples seeking to be married being turned away from offices of the Department in various localities around the country.
Deidre Carter contended that it was an infringement of our Bill of Rights that civil servants (who are obliged to serve all citizens impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias) had the right in law to be exempted from providing same-sex couples with the same service that they were required to provide to other couples.
She also contended that it offended the right to equality and human dignity; and that Constitutionally the state was prohibited from unfairly discriminating against anyone.
This resulted in the initiation of the Civil Union Amendment Act which repeals this right.
The Bill as adopted by the National Assembly, does provide for the phasing in of the implementation of this provision, but this is on the clear understanding that the Department must ensure that at all of its service points it has marriage officers who will attend to same-sex marriages.
This Bill does not affect marriage officers not employed by the state, such as those affiliated to churches.
By all accounts, this is only the second Bill initiated by a member of parliament in their own capacity that has ultimately been adopted by the National Assembly.