Following a number of incidents in which gay couples were turned away by officials in Port Elizabeth, Home Affairs says the problem has now been resolved.
Last month, Kevin de Lange and Cobus Steyn were told by Home Affairs officials in the city centre that they did not conduct same-sex marriages and were referred to a private marriage officer. This was not the first such incident at that branch.
In response, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, MP Manny De Freitas, tabled a Member’s Statement in Parliament in which he reminded the Minister of Home Affairs that “legislation requires that there be trained Civil Union officers who are available and willing to conduct same-sex marriages in each Home Affairs office”.
He said that “This is not the first time that this kind of thing has taken place in that very Home Affairs office. That office knows that refusing to conduct such marriages is incorrect as officials from that office apologised when another same-sex couple were refused their marriage in 2011. Yet this unacceptable behaviour continues.”
De Freitas added that, “This is another example of how the Department of Home Affairs and its officials are simply ignoring legislation. The Minister needs to urgently resolve this matter so that this legislative and Constitutional mandate is fulfilled.”
On Thursday, Home Affairs Provincial Manager for the Eastern Cape Gcinile Mabulu told Mambaonline that the matter had now been resolved.
He confirmed that all the marriage officers at the PE Home Affairs branch had initially refused to participate in solemnising same-sex couples, which they are allowed to do under the law (although the department is still responsible for placing someone who will marry same-sex couples in each office).
“When this was brought to my attention I approached the office manager to find somebody who could, out of compassion, service such couples. Fortunately we did get one amongst them who agreed to do it. Those couples were then contacted and solemnised.”
Mabulu stated that, “in the office there is now somebody who will solemnise same sex couples. I spoke to her and the person responded that she is willing and that she has no problem. She originally had a problem but she then agreed to it.”
Under the Civil Union Act, a marriage officer must inform the Minister “in writing” that “he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex” in order to be exempt from doing so.
When Mambaonline asked Mabulu if the staff at the PE office had informed the Minister of their position in writing, he was unable to confirm this and admitted that he was unclear on the legislation in this regard. He said that he would pursue the matter further.
De Freitas told Mambaonline that he was happy that the Minister and the department had taken action in response to his statement in Parliament.