The government has finalised the Civil Union Bill, which is to be tabled before parliament next week Tuesday, with some minor changes.

The national assembly’s home affairs committee – which was charged with drawing up the Bill and assessing the hundreds of submissions from the public and interested organisations – adopted the legislation on Thursday despite opposition from some of its members.

A majority of the committee members – all from the ANC – voted for the Bill, while opposition party members chose to abstain or vote against it. The DA abstained, while The African Christian Democratic Party voted against the Bill.

The controversial Bill has been opposed by conservative and religious groups because it legalises gay and lesbian relationships, as well as by most LGBT organisations – because it creates a “separate but equal” form of marriage for same-sex couples.

Amendments to the Bill include removing references to “same-sex” couples, instead defining a civil union as the voluntary union of two persons who are both 18 years and older. This means that heterosexual couples would be able to marry both under the existing Marriage Act as well as the proposed new law, should it go into effect.

While the government’s chief legal advisor, Enver Daniels, had previously warned that the bill might be declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, he now says that the current version should pass muster.

“This is a civil union… it doesn’t matter whether you are heterosexual or of the same sex. You can use the Bill in order to solemnise the relationship and in doing so you have the choice to call it a marriage or a partnership,” he told the committee.

The committee’s chairperson, Patrick Chauke, described the adoption of the Bill as a “historic moment in the country’s democracy”. It is scheduled to be tabled at the national assembly on Tuesday next week, where it will be voted on before becoming law.

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