Humiliated by Home Affairs: Lance Ledingham & Craig Durant
The Department of Home Affairs is struggling with firmly entrenched homophobia as another gay couple is refused marriage services. And the problem appears to be spreading.
Two weeks ago, Lance Ledingham went to the Home Affairs office in North End, Port Elizabeth, to make an appointment to marry his partner of 22 years, Craig Durant.
After standing in the queue, he presented his and Durant’s ID books to an official at reception. She showed them to a man, who Ledingham believes could be the branch manager.
The man shook his head at the woman, called Ledingham aside and repeatedly told him: “This branch does not offer same-sex marriage – and neither do some other branches.”
When Ledingham asked which branches do offer the service, the man refused to assist even with this information.
“It was just very humiliating. I was very upset because they had given the commitment that this would not happen again. It was a complete shock. Every time I talk about it, even now, I get upset,” Ledingham told Mambaonline.
This is at least the fourth known such incident in the last three years in the city. As recently at June last year, the same Port Elizabeth branch refused to marry a gay couple.
Following intervention by the DA and by an apologetic Eastern Cape Home Affairs provincial manager, the office began offering marriage license services to same-sex couples. It seems it has now resumed its discriminatory practices. And the crisis is not just in Port Elizabeth.
Earlier this month we reported on another case in which the Alberton Home Affairs office in Johannesburg also refused to assist a lesbian couple. Mambaonline has received reports of similar incidents in other offices; including in East London and Bloemfontein.
Gail Kirchmann of the Eastern Cape Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Organisation (ECLGBTO) told Mambaonline that the situation was unacceptable.
She said that Home Affairs must legally ensure that there is someone available at its branches to be able to provide a civil union marriage service to same-sex couples.
Under the Civil Union Act, individual marriage officers can be exempted from marrying same-sex couples only if they inform the Minister “in writing” that “he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion and belief.”
Kirchmann said that she doubts that most, if any, of the Home Affairs officials who’ve refused to solemnise gay marriages have taken this action.
She added that, even if they did, the organisation still rejects this provision in the Civil Union Act as unconstitutional.
“Imagine if a Home Affairs official refused, because of his or her own prejudices, to marry an inter-racial couple – there would be a national outcry,” said Kirchmann “There needs to be a change to the law, as well as a change in attitude by the Department of Home Affairs at every level.”
She commented that it is also problematic when officials who don’t want to marry gay couples are forced to do so.
“I’ve received reports of people getting begrudgingly married by someone with a long face. That’s not going to be a joyful and happy event,” Kirchmann explained.
Instead, she, argued, the department should not hire staff who are not willing to marry gay couples in the first place.
“If people are not willing to marry same-sex couples they should not be marriage officers. It should be a prerequisite for the job. You shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose what services you want to offer.”
Kirchmann revealed that she had written directly to the Minister of Home Affairs, Naledi Pandor, about the latest incident. Pandor personally replied that “she regrets what happened and will look into the matter,” said Kirchmann.
Mambaonline was unsuccessful in contacting the Home Affairs Eastern Cape Provincial Manager for comment.
As for Ledingham, he is insisting that the offending branch gives him the service that he is entitled to.
“They can’t get away with it. They need to do it. It will happen and it will happen there.
“I’m not letting go of this because otherwise more people will experience the same thing. Some people can’t afford to go elsewhere and have a private ceremony. I’m not giving in. I’m quite determined,” he said.
Mambaonline recommends that anyone who experiences a similar rejection at a Home Affairs branch ensure that they write down the name of the official who turns them down to assist in resolving the matter.