In an extraordinary turn of events, the EFF has apologised after three of its members in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) voted against the Civil Union Amendment Bill.
On Wednesday, the landmark legislation was passed in the NCOP and will now go to President Cyril Ramaphosa for his signature.
The draft law repeals Section 6 of the Civil Union Act which currently allows state-employed Home Affairs officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the grounds of their personal “conscience, religion [or] belief”.
While the bill was supported by the country’s two biggest parties, the ANC and the DA, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has confirmed that “three members of the EFF deployed in the NCOP… without mandate, voted against the passing of this bill.”
In a statement, the party said it had been in support of repealing Section 6 through the bill and had voted in its favour in the National Assembly in 2018 but that there were “NCOP delegates who without mandate objected to the bill in the NCOP.”
The EFF has asked these members “to account for voting in a manner which is inconsistent with the EFF party position on legislation around the LGBTQI+ and against our position in governance regarding this bill…”
It added that “the EFF unreservedly apologises to the LGBTQI+ and civil society activists who have toiled to see this progressive move towards justice and dignity…” The EFF also called on President Ramaphosa to sign the bill to ensure that it comes into effect “as a matter of urgency.”
The party committed itself to efforts to end systematic homophobia and transphobia, including supporting legislation to criminalise hate crimes and to ensure that the Department of Home Affairs expedites ID alterations for transgender applicants.
“The EFF reaffirms its position in support of the LGBTQI+ community and calls for active participation by all those in society in advancing and defending the rights of all people of South Africa, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation,” it said.
Once the Civil Union Amendment Bill comes into force, Home Affairs will have a 24-month transition period in which to train officials who’d previously been granted permission by the minister to refuse to solemnise same-sex marriages or unions. During that period, however, every Home Affairs branch must ensure that it can offer the service to same-sex couples.
The bill is a major advance in ensuring that marriage equality is accessible to all South Africans across the country, in line with the country’s constitutional obligations to eradicate discrimination against LGBTQI+ people.