Lance Ledingham & Craig Durant will finally marry later this month after first being turned away.
It’s been confirmed that none of the marriage officers at the controversial North End Port Elizabeth Home Affairs branch will officiate a same-sex marriage.
Speaking to Provincial Manager Sonto Lusu, Mambaonline learned that all four marriage officers at the office had written letters objecting to conducting the ceremonies, which effectively entitles them under the law to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.
“It is problematic,” said Lusu. “That’s why we have to have alternatives. We are also trying to persuade some of them.
“We are not happy with it and it is a challenge but we also have to respect their religions and cultures.”
She insisted, however, that same-sex couples will no longer be turned away from the office in future as “alternative” arrangements had been made; gay-friendly marriage officers will now be brought in from elsewhere when required.
“The solution is that we now have a central database of every marriage officer who is willing to conduct same-sex marriages, so when people come through we will make arrangements for an available time.”
Lusu couldn’t comment on if it was unconstitutional that the Civil Union Act allows marriage officers – civil servants who should treat every South African citizen equally – to discriminate against same-sex couples.
She confirmed that Home Affairs staff in her province do not receive any kind of sensitisation training on LGBTI people or issues, adding that it could be “a good idea” as “training of any kind develops people.”
Lusu revealed that the official who recently turned away Lance Ledingham and his partner of 22 years, Craig Durant, had been reprimanded. “If they [the staff] don’t have a solution they should always refer the matter to me so I can find a solution,” she said.
Ledingham told Mambaonline that after news of his humiliating refusal of service at the Home Affair branch broke – the fourth known such incident at the office in the last three years, and there are reports of similar incidents around the country – he was contacted by the department. A date for his marriage ceremony has now been set for 25 April
“They were very pleasant,” he commented. “They said that this was not the way things should have been done and that he [the official] should not have sent me away. They said they are rectifying it.
“I’m quite happy. We’ll go ahead and have the marriage at Home Affairs and have a reception the next day. The one thing that I have discussed is that this must never happen again,” Ledingham said.
Unfortunately, as long as the Civil Union Act legally allows homophobic Home Affairs marriage officers to opt out of serving gay and lesbian couples – a deeply egregious flaw in the law – the problem is likely to continue to plague our community.