A Johannesburg lesbian couple have been humiliated after they were refused their right to get married at a Home Affairs office.
Three weeks ago, Corrie van den Berg and her partner Patrys Koen went to the Department of Home Affairs in Alberton to make an appointment to tie the knot.
But what should have been an exciting and happy experience turned out to be a disappointing and demeaning one.
“We were asked to fill out a form to make the appointment. We then were told to take it to a man who said for us to sit down, and he looked at the form,” van den Berg told Mambaonline.
“He didn’t introduce himself, and then he just said ‘we don’t do same-sex marriages here.'”
According to van den Berg, he instead referred the couple to the Edenvale office.
“He didn’t even explain why they don’t do it there.” Embarrassed, the couple “just got up and left.” Van den Berg said that they were extremely hurt and angry.
“Why must we travel elsewhere to get married?” she asked. “You plan the day and set aside the time. And you walk in there and you get disappointed. I mean we are still the rainbow nation. Everybody can get married, whether you are gay or straight. We have the same rights as everybody.”
Mambaonline spoke to Home Affairs Gauteng Provincial Manager Albert Matsaung who expressed his surprise at the incident.
“Our offices conduct marriages of all kinds, and people must be treated without discrimination,” he insisted.
He asked for details of the homophobic snub, including the name of the official who turned the couple away, and promised to investigate further.
“If this is is true, that official did not do his job and we can act against that official,” Matsaung said.
Johan Meyer, Health Manager at OUT in Pretoria said that not only were the couple faced with blatant discrimination but they were also forced to deal with “feelings of rejection and of not being regarded as equal human beings, as if they are not good enough to enjoy the same rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts.”
He added that “LGBTI people face these kinds of feelings on a daily basis. It is yet another example of the gap between a very progressive Constitution and legislation, and the attitudes of a country’s citizens on the ground.”
This is not the first such incident in South Africa, which legalised same-sex marriage in 2006. There have been previous reports that officials at some Home Affairs offices have taken it upon themselves to reject gay couples.
In June last year, the Department of Home Affairs in Port Elizabeth refused to marry a gay couple; at least the third time it had done so in as many years.
Following intervention by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Manny De Freitas, in Parliament and the Home Affairs Eastern Cape Provincial Manager, the office reportedly began offering marriage license services to same-sex couples.
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.
However, each office of Home Affairs must have at least one Civil Union Act marriage officer available to marry same-sex couples.
Van den berg and Koen will marry this Saturday at a church in Boksburg that performs gay marriages.