The South African
parliament is expected to approve same-sex civil
unions later this year, despite opposition from church
groups. The cabinet on Wednesday agreed to send a
civil unions bill to parliament.
This follows a constitutional court judgment
that found that the common law definition of marriage
in the Marriage Act of 1961 was unconstitutional
because it failed to give the same status, benefits, and
responsibilities to same-sex unions that marriage accorded
to heterosexual couples.
The new bill provides for the recognition of
domestic partnerships between adults, whether same or
different sex. A cabinet statement issued Thursday
said the bill "was likely to generate a lot of public
debate, but at the end of the day the decision of the
constitutional court must be respected by everyone."
Church leaders have protested against the court
ruling and warned they will seek to have the proposals
amended during the passage through parliament. The
Marriage Alliance said it is planning a march in seven
cities on September 16 to demonstrate against the moves and
"protect marriage in its traditional form."
The alliance said it would lobby the parliament
for a constitutional amendment that would ensure that
marriage in its traditional form between a man and
woman is protected. At the same time the alliance would also
call for additional legislation to protect the rights of
same-sex couples in permanent relationships.
However, the ruling African National Congress
has a huge majority in parliament, which is expected
to approve the act before the end of the year.
Homosexuality remains largely taboo throughout
Africa, and South Africa would become the first
country on the continent to legalize same-sex unions.
South Africa recognized the rights of gay people in the
constitution adopted after apartheid ended in 1994, the
first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation. But the government
previously opposed attempts to extend the definition of
marriage in court to include same-sex couples in the mostly
Married couples have numerous rights still
denied to gay couples, including the ability to make
decisions on each other's behalf in medical
emergencies and inheritance rights if a partner dies without
a will. (AP)