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Same-sex marriage
approved in South Africa

Same-sex marriage
approved in South Africa

In a first for the African continent, South African lawmakers passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriages on Tuesday despite criticism from both traditionalists and gay activists.

South African lawmakers passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriage on Tuesday despite criticism from both traditionalists and gay activists. The bill, unprecedented on a continent where homosexuality is taboo, was decried by gay activists for not going far enough and by opponents who warned it ''was provoking God's anger.''

Veterans of the governing African National Congress praised the Civil Union Bill for extending basic freedoms to everyone under the spirit of the country's first post-apartheid constitution, adopted a decade ago by framers determined to make discrimination a thing of the past. ''When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust painful past by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed, culture, and sex,'' home affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula declared.

South Africa's constitution was the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, providing a powerful legal tool to gay rights activists even though South Africa remains conservative on such issues.

A Christian lawmaker, Kenneth Meshoe, said that Tuesday was the ''saddest day in our 12 years of democracy'' and warned that South Africa ''was provoking God's anger.'' His comments reflected the majority view on a deeply conservative continent.

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, and most other sub-Saharan countries. Some countries also are debating constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage. Even in South Africa, gays and lesbians are often attacked because of their sexual orientation.

One church leader in Nigeria, Apostle Abraham Umoh of the Mount of Victory Mission, denounced the vote as ''satanic,'' while Bishop Joseph Ojo of Calvary Kingdom Church in Lagos said it was recognition of ''animal rights'' rather than human rights. The Roman Catholic Church and many traditionalist leaders in South Africa said the measure denigrates the sanctity of marriages between men and women.

To ease some of these concerns, the bill allows both religious and civil officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples on moral grounds. Gay rights groups criticized this ''opt-out'' clause, saying same-sex couples should be treated the same as heterosexual couples, but in general they praised the new measure. ''It demonstrates powerfully the commitment of our lawmakers to ensuring that all human beings are treated with dignity,'' said Fikile Vilakazi of the Joint Working Group, a national network of 17 gay and lesbian organizations.

Activists in Europe, where several countries have provisions recognizing same-sex unions, said South Africa is a shining example for gay rights. ''It's a beautiful thing for South Africa today,'' said Guillermo Rodriguez, a member of a French gay rights group who said he hopes France will follow suit.

Gay couples in South Africa started making wedding plans. ''For some people, marriage means nothing, it is just a piece of paper. But we want that symbolism of having a legally binding document of our love,'' said Lindiwe Radebe, who wants to marry her partner, Bathini Dambuza.

The bill provides for the ''voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union,'' without specifying whether they are heterosexual or homosexual partnerships. The national assembly passed the bill 230-41, with three abstentions. The measure now goes to the national council of provinces, which is expected to be a formality, before being signed into law by President Thabo Mbeki. (AP)

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