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South African gays sue for marriage rights

South African gays sue for marriage rights

South Africa's leading gay and lesbian rights group on Friday said it had mounted a legal challenge to repeal laws banning marriage for same-sex couples. "We have filed papers before the Johannesburg high court [on Thursday] challenging the laws that prevent two people of the same sex from entering into a legally recognized marriage," Jonathan Berger, chairman of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, told Agence France-Presse. Berger said the case, filed by 18 people, including four gay couples and three lesbian couples, sought "to declare the common-law definition of marriage and the prescribed marriage formula as unconstitutional." Berger said they want the law as well as the vows invoked by civil officials during a wedding ceremony to become gender-neutral, referring to "two persons" or "spouses." "Basically, what we want is the formula that says 'Do you take this man or woman as your lawfully wedded husband or wife?' to include the word 'spouse,'" Berger said. Three years after South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, former president Nelson Mandela signed into effect South Africa's postapartheid constitution, hailed as one of the most liberal in the world. Gays celebrated a clause in the constitution making discrimination based on sexual identity illegal. Various rulings by South Africa's Constitutional Court, including one allowing gay couples to adopt children, have since been added. But even with a liberal constitution, the fact that South Africa's same-sex couples cannot marry has far-reaching consequences; for instance, they miss out on benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy, Wendy Isaack, the group's legal officer, told Agence France-Presse. This includes the right to a partner's estate and a divorce settlement. "As for our families, being recognized as legally married will get them to start taking us seriously and recognize us as equals within society," Isaack said.

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