Mambaonline can reveal that only a paltry 28,6% of Home Affairs branches have marriage officers who are willing to marry same-sex couples.
For the first time, the department has released a list of offices across the country that will provide the service.
According to the list, only 117 of the 409 offices nationwide will welcome gay or lesbian couples who would like to get married under the Civil Union Act. (Mambaonline verified with a Home Affairs spokesperson that the number of offices listed on its website is accurate and that all of them do provide different-sex marriage services.)
In Gauteng, only 17 out of 57 offices will conduct same-sex marriages, along with 10 out of 59 in the Eastern Cape, 5 out of 28 in the Free State, 10 out of 58 in Mpumalanga, 16 out 61 in Limpopo and 10 out of 34 in the Western Cape. In the Northern Cape, the number is 9 out of 22, in KZN it’s 29 out of 68 and in North West, 10 out of 22 will assist same-sex couples.
This vast gap has come about because the Civil Union Act that legalised same-sex marriage in 2006 allows marriage officers to opt out of registering same- sex marriages “on the ground of conscience, religion and belief”.
The release of the list aims to alleviate the ongoing problems faced by same-sex couples who have been turned away by certain Home Affairs offices; to help avoid humiliation and couples wasting their time. While it may be useful in that regard for some (mainly those who live near a Civil Union friendly office), it has also highlighted the reality that same-sex couples are not equal under the law in South Africa.
At a press conference on Monday, Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba said the list was just one of the strategies that the department had undertaken to resolve the issue (and others related to a lack of adequate services to LGBTI people). This includes increasing sensitisation of Home Affairs officials and ensuring that LGBTI people are treated respectfully and according to policies and laws by staff.
“On the whole we are on course,” Gigaba said, explaining that a Home Affairs and LGBTI Task-team was also “reviewing relevant legislation to address identified gaps”.
He admitted, however, that the list was not a final solution. “To the extent that our diversity management campaign and sensitivity raising campaign becomes successful and more people do consent [to marry same-sex couples] we will add those names to the list, we will add those offices,” he said.
Matthew Clayton, Research, Advocacy and Policy Coordinator at Triangle Project, said he was appalled by the limited number of offices on the list and that such a list was even necessary.
Infographic courtesy of Adrian Frith
“The fact that LGBTI people have to pick and choose from a menu of places from their own government where they won’t be discriminated against shows that the Civil Union Act has entrenched second-class citizenship onto LGBTI people,” he told Mambaonline.
Clayton dismissed the idea that the problem could be resolved through training of staff. “It’s unbelievable, frankly, how we can talk about sensitising Home Affairs staff when they know they have the right to discriminate against LGBTI people. Until there’s a proper legal directive to ensure equality – no amount of sensitisation and training will achieve that.”
Clayton believes that the Civil Union Act is ultimately a flawed piece of legislation. “It is a ten-year-old compromise that has demonstrated how unworkable it is. And it has codified what is an unconstitutional provision that allows state employees to discriminate against LGBTI people.”
He called on Home Affairs to show leadership on the issue and for the minister to amend the law “before LGBTI people embark on a long and unnecessary process of litigation”.
The list of Home Affairs offices that conduct same-sex civil unions and marriages can be downloaded here (PDF).