By Rebecca Harrison
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s cabinet has given its blessing to a bill allowing gay marriage, which would make it the first country in Africa to accord homosexual couples the same rights as their straight counterparts.
kesman Themba Maseko said on Thursday the cabinet had approved the bill — which must still be adopted by parliament — after the country’s highest court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry.
“Basically (the bill) will legalise same-sex marriage in compliance with the Constitutional Court ruling,” said Maseko, who could not say when parliament would discuss the bill.
The bill, which has sparked opposition from religious groups, is still subject to public comment but gay rights activists applauded the decision and said it gave hope for gay and lesbians seeking to marry.
“This is a very positive step for the gay community,” said Vista Kalipa, media coordinator for gay rights group Triangle Project. “It gives hope for those homosexual couples who want to join in union.” The cabinet decision puts South Africa on course to join a handful of mostly European countries that allow same-sex marriage and the first to do so in Africa, where homosexuality remains largely taboo and opponents decry gay unions as ‘un-African’.
South Africa’s high court said in December same-sex unions must be allowed under the country’s constitution, widely considered one of the most liberal in the world.
It said parliament had one year to change the current definition of marriage, which says the union is between a husband and wife, and that if it failed to act, the law would be automatically changed to include same-sex unions.
The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada already sanction gay marriages. Many African countries outlaw homosexuality and turn a blind eye to the persecution of gays and lesbians.
Some church groups in South Africa, which is predominantly Christian, have opposed same-sex unions on the grounds it flouts public opinion.
The conservative African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has called for a constitutional amendment to “protect traditional marriage” and said it was disappointed by the cabinet’s decision.
“We oppose any change to the God-given institution of marriage which is constrained to a male and a female and has existed for thousands of years as the cornerstone of stable societies,” said ACDP Justice spokesman, Steven Swart. — Reuter