By Leila Samodien
Seventeen churches across South Africa have applied to, and been accepted by, the department of home affairs to officiate gay marriages.
A list of the churches, released to the Cape Argus on Thursday by the department of home affairs, excludes the major church groupings.
The 17 institutions had applied to solemnise same-sex unions after the Civil Union Act, which legalised gay marriages, was implemented on December 1.
All were approved by Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said department spokesperson Mantshele Tau.
Ministers at these churches, are, however, still required to write an examination - which tests their knowledge of the Civil Union Act - but this process has been considerably delayed.
A pastor at the Unitarian Church, Gordon Oliver, applied for his licence on December 5 and is still waiting for material to prepare for the exam.
On Thursday, the Cape Argus reported that four leading denominations - the Anglican Church, the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church - had instituted policies that barred their ministers from officiating at gay marriages.
It was also reported that individual officials at religious institutions were obliged to submit letters to Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula if they did not wish to officiate over gay marriage ceremonies.
However, Tau said that, according to the Civil Union Act, "churches make their own decisions on whether to marry same-sex couples".
He said the rule of submitting letters to the Home Affairs Department applied to Home Affairs marriage officers only, if they did not want to marry gay couples.
In the meantime, the policies barring gay marriages at larger churches have not gone down well with certain ministers.
Nineteen ministers in the Methodist Church Cape of Good Hope District recently challenged the decision not to marry homosexual couples.
A minister of the church, the Reverend Timothy Attwell, said the church was in discussion with those ministers.
At another church, a gay minister, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, told the Cape Argus that he planned to leave his church denomination to move to a smaller denomination that supported same-sex marriages.
He said while he felt strongly about officiating at gay marriages, his church, which is one of the country's largest denominations, would fire him for even considering it. The church is not aware of his sexual orientation.
"I am definitely going to change my denomination because of the church's views towards same-sex couples.
"There are smaller churches that don't seem to be as unfriendly about it and encourage it, but they are in the minority."
The churches that have been approved to officiate same-sex marriages are: