Several religious leaders have criticised South Africa’s newly proposed Marriage Bill, which aims to establish gender-neutral and equal marriage rights for all citizens.
On Thursday, the Department of Home Affairs hosted a consultative dialogue regarding the draft Marriage Bill at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.
The bill aims to unify the country’s three distinct and inconsistent marriage laws – the Civil Union Act (which allows for same-sex marriages), the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, and the existing Marriage Act – into a single, equal law for all South Africans.
The proposed law would define marriage as a union between gender-neutral partners and expands the scope for individuals to become eligible to officiate marriages.
Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Home Affairs, emphasised during the event that “the protection of women, same-sex couples, and children in both monogamous and polygamous marriages” was at the core of the marriage laws review.
“The Marriage Bill seeks to…ensure that all persons regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religious or cultural beliefs are treated equally and with dignity,” he told the audience.
Motsoaledi added that he was also very proud that the proposed law would do away with child marriages. “No person under 18 should be allowed to enter into marriage, whether they have the consent of their parents or not,” he explained.
A point of contention in the debate was the bill’s definition of polygamy as a “marriage in which a male spouse has more than one spouse at the same time”, potentially excluding, for example, same-sex partners or a woman and two men from entering into a polygamous marriage.
Panelist Steve Letsike, the Director of Access Chapter 2, argued that retaining this restriction would merely serve to uphold “hierarchical patriarchy.” In contrast, Minister Motsoaledi expressed frustration regarding the debate on the matter, asserting that the limitation stemmed from community feedback rather than being a government imposition.
Ismail Muhammad, the legal advisor to the United Ulama Council of South Africa and the Muslim Judicial Council, criticised the bill, asserting that it is “absolutely devoid of any religion, this bill is a completely secular bill.” He contended that the bill unfairly marginalises religious groups seeking to define marriages according to their faith.
Longstanding anti-LGBTQ advocate Pastor Errol Naidoo posted a video on the Family Policy Institute’s Facebook page condemning the Marriage Bill. Naidoo warned that the bill would lead to “the death of marriage in South Africa” due to its abandonment of the terms “husband” and “wife.”
“This effectively kills off the Biblical definition of marriage in South Africa. Monogamous heterosexual marriage will cease to exist once this new single Marriage Bill comes into effect,” Naidoo dramatically claimed.
Naidoo also inaccurately asserted, “South Africa is the only nation in the world to strip men and women of the unique legal definition of marriage between a man and a woman to accommodate the LGBTQ community.”
However, numerous countries, including Australia, Canada, Estonia, Norway, and Sweden, have embraced gender-neutral marriage laws.
Thursday marks the conclusion of the designated timeframe for written public input on the bill to be submitted to the Department of Home Affairs.