Vernon Gibbs and
Tony Halls got hitched Friday in South Africa's first
same-sex wedding, a day after the government made same-sex
marriages legal. The couple, who run a guest lodge and
animal rehabilitation center on the southwestern
coast, donned their game-ranger outfits and went down
to the local home affairs office in the town of George. In
front of marriage officer Petro Kruger, they exchanged
rings and were pronounced a married couple.
"It was so amazing. So quick and easy. I can't
believe it. I am so happy," said Gibbs.
South Africa on Thursday became the first
country in Africa, and only the fifth in the world, to
legalize same-sex marriages, despite opposition from
political parties and religious groups. The Civil Union Act
went into effect a day ahead of the December 1
deadline set by the country's constitutional court,
which required the marriage law be changed to ensure
equality for gays and lesbians.
As some couples began hurrying to make
preparations for long-awaited nuptials, jewelry shops,
hotels, and entrepreneurs were offering "pink wedding"
services. Jacky Mashapu, a spokesman for the Home
Affairs Ministry, where couples will need to apply for
permission to wed, said George had been the site of
the first two same-sex weddings: Gibbs and Hart at 11
a.m. local time and another one at 2 p.m. Details of the
second one are not yet known.
Mashapu said they were still trying to ascertain
how many applications had been made to offices across
the country. In the meantime, Janine Pressman with the
Glorious Light Metropolitan Community Churches in
Pretoria on Friday became the first pastor allowed to
perform marriages under the act. She is expected to
marry a Johannesburg couple in a private ceremony on Saturday.
But Gibbs and Halls are not keeping their union
secret, and it would be hard to suppress such
excitement. Too busy partying to answer the phone, the
couple had a voice mail message proudly stating that
they are the first gay couple to get married in South
Africa and thanks well-wishers for all the calls.
The couple, who have been together nine years,
made headlines last year when they clashed with local
church members who objected to their opening their
lodge to gay tourists. The lodge was vandalized five times,
and in response a gay militant group threatened to
destroy the church building. The church later
apologized, and the couple withdrew criminal charges.
"After all the trouble it was so amazing to be
able to do something like this, and everyone was so
supportive," Gibbs said. "We have been planning
indirectly for this for about eight months, but it was only
last night that we got confirmation from Home Affairs that
they could do it today," he said.
Gibbs said their wedding was attended by some
friends, students he trains, and a number of curious
onlookers who crowded into the small hall to witness
the historic event. "We couldn't stop people coming in and
taking pictures," he said.
He said it was also significant that South
Africa's first same-sex marriage had taken place on
World AIDS Day, and the happy couple and many of
the guests wore red ribbons to mark the day. "This marriage
is not just for Tony and I. It is for all HIV/AIDS sufferers
and gay people who have experienced discrimination,"
Gibbs said the advantages of being married
included greater legal protection as well as better
medical aid and pension benefits. But for him,
marriage is about much more.
"Marriage means a lifetime commitment. It means
to cherish, obey, love, honor. It means through
sickness and health. All those relevant words I never
thought would be for me," he said. (Celean Jacobson,