The National Assembly passed a bill which will make it impermissible for marriage officers working for the State to refuse to marry same-sex couples. File picture: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Parliament - The National Assembly on Thursday passed a bill which will make it impermissible for marriage officers working for the State to refuse to marry same-sex couples, but objections were raised to the fact that Home Affairs has been granted a 24-month transitional period for training. 

The Civil Union Amendment Bill, which seeks to repeal section 6 of the act allowing marriage officers to opt out of marrying same-sex couples on the basis of "conscience, religion and belief", was passed with the support of most parties.

The bill was introduced by Congress of the People MP Deidre Carter, who on Thursday asserted that: "It cannot be in our Constitutional democracy that civil servants can be afforded the right in law about whom they would like to serve."

The proposed amendment was supported by the ruling African National Congress. Its MP Hlomani Chauke said of the 409 Home Affairs offices in South Africa most did not serve same-sex couples.

"What was disturbing was almost 88 percent of marriage officers in the department were exempted from marrying same-sex couples," he said.

The bill gives the Home Affairs department a 24-month "transitional period" to enable officers an opportunity to be trained.

Democratic Alliance MP Hanif Hoosen said this was problematic, calling for the transitional period to be scrapped.

"Why should any civil servant have the right to pick and choose which law they want to follow. This is wrong. If you are an employee of the State you must serve all citizens...What people do in their bedrooms is none of your business," said Hoosen. 

The amendment bill was opposed by the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), the National Freedom Party and the African Independent Congress. 

While MPs said the amendment only applies to civil marriage officers and not religious marriage officers, ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe said it was the start of the state's encroachment on churches.

"Our Constitution protects freedom of conscience, religion and belief and Parliament has a duty to see that people do not act against this conscience in places of work...No one should be forced to accept a moral wrong...," said Meshoe. 

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi disagreed, saying South Africa was a constitutional democracy and "not a religious democracy".

"Religious institutions are collective spaces belonging to those with firm beliefs...but officials acting on behalf of a democratic state must serve all South Africans equally," said Mkhaliphi.

"While marriage officers have a right to exercise their religious beliefs and notions of conscience, this must not interfere in the exercise of public power."

The Bill will be sent to the President for assent.

African News Agency (ANA)