File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Parliament - Parliamentarians across the political divide have thrown their weight behind a draft bill proposing that civil servants who are marriage officers be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages regardless of their religious beliefs.

The bill was introduced to Parliament by the Congress of the People (COPE) to repeal a section of the Civil Union Act that provides for a marriage officer to be exempted from solemnising same-sex marriages on the grounds of conscience, religion and belief.

The exemption in the Civil Union Act is in conflict with the Marriage Act, which provides for marriage officers employed by the state to solemnise all marriages.

On Wednesday morning COPE's MP Deidre Carter made a presentation to Home Affairs' portfolio committee on the bill.

Carter said she introduced the bill after she received complaints from same-sex couples who were turned away from Home Affairs offices when wanting to marry.

She said one couple was even called with derogoratory names when turned away by officials at oThongathi in KwaZulu-Natal.

Carter said former Home Affairs minister Hlengiwe Mkhize had in a written reply to a parliamentary question said that out of 1130 marriage officers, 421 were exempted from solemnising same sex marriages.

Carter said the Civil Union Act was discriminating against same-sex couples on the basis of sexual orientation when exempted officials refused to solemnise marriages of same sex couples.

Carter also said it flew in the face of the Constitution, which promotes equality, among other things.

All parties congratulated Carter for introducing the bill.

The DA's Haniff Hoosen said if the Civil Union Act violated the Constitution, the committee should proceed with speed to bring the legislation in line with the supreme law of the country.

The EFF's Hlengiwe Mkalipi said Carter's initiative was progressive. "We have no choice. It is our duty as the committee," she said about forging ahead with the repeal of the legislation.

The IFP's Sbongile Nkomo said the state had created a blunder when it exempted certain officials from solemnising same-sex marriages.She said amending the Act should not be debated but implemented.

Donald Gumede said his party, the ANC, was on side of the constitution. "We have no option but to agree," he said.

Home Affairs Department's Aaron Ramodumo said the legislation should be reconsidered if there was something wrong.

Ramodumo said sections in certain legislations like the Marriage Act should also be looked into as it had a similar section on marriage officers.

"We can't continue to disregard certain individuals on the basis of who they are," Ramodumo said.

Committee chairperson Hlomane Chauke said parliament would engage with other stakeholders on the bill and also deal with technicalities around taking the repeal of the legislation forward.

"In principle members of the committee are with you (Carter). Don't be surprised, you have done a good work," Chauke said.

Political Bureau