Second-class citizens | Discriminatory Civil Union Act must be changed

A petition has been launched to amend the Civil Union Act which allows Home Affairs marriage officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples in South Africa.

Last year, Mambaonline reported that just 28,6% of Home Affairs branches have marriage officers who are willing to marry same-sex couples.

This is because Section 6 of the Civil Union Act that legalised same-sex marriage in 2006 allows them to opt out of registering same-sex marriages “on the ground of conscience, religion and belief”.

This has led to numerous same-sex couples humiliatingly being turned away at Home Affairs branches across the country. As the service is not available at all in some areas, couples are then often forced to pay for a private marriage officer, which can easily cost around R3,000.

Section 6 effectively legalises state discrimination against gay and lesbian people, says Igor Scheurkogel, the South African Director of Asia, Africa and Oceania at Mr Gay World.

He has now created an online petition that aims to remove this option from the act. “The government should be a body that serves all citizens equally no matter their race, religion, gender or sexual preference,” reads the petition’s text.

Speaking to Mambaonline, Scheurkogel said he started the initiative “because I’m not a second-class citizen and if they can discriminate based on religion within the law, what is next?”

He pointed out that promises by former Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba to sensitise officials in the department, while laudable, are not enough and that staff still know that they “have the right to discriminate against LGBTIQA South Africans”.

Scheurkogel added that, “public servants are there to serve the people, not their beliefs.”

He wants the current Minister of Home Affairs, Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize, to introduce legislation to amend the Civil Union Act to remove Section 6.

On 15 May, after being contacted by Scheurkogel, MP Deidre Carter, the Deputy General Secretary of Cope, asked the minister in writing if she would be willing to “introduce amending legislation to repeal section 6 of the Civil Union Act, Act 17 of 2006…”

The minister has yet to respond. It is unlikely, however, that the government has the stomach to raise the ire of its more conservative religious constituents who would see such a move as an attack on their “religious freedom”.

Scheurkogel told Mambaonline that if the government does not take action on the issue he is prepared to work with LGBTIQA groups to bring the matter before the Constitutional Court.

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