Gay marriage rights hits traditional snag

By Ayanda Mhlongo Time of article published Feb 21, 2005

Share this article:

The question that the African communities are asking with regards to same sex marriages is: "What about ilobolo?".

Throughout South Africa, public hearings were being conducted by the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL), to inform the people about the proposed legislation, and to then listen to people's views on this issue.

The rural villagers strongly opposed same sex marriages and referred to the ilobolo custom as a crucial question that should not be ignored when backing their views.

According to the elders, ilobolo is paid to build a relationship between two families - the groom's and the family of the bride-to-be.

"Traditional customs regarding ilobolo are that a man pays ilobolo to a woman's family, it was never from a man to another man or from a woman for another woman," explained Msawenkosi Mnguni, a respondent.

This, however, is being challenged by a non-governmental organisation, The Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, that works to achieve full legal and social equality for lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in South Africa.

"Same sex marriages are legal, but they are not recognised by the department of home affairs. As an organisation and the gay and lesbian people, this is still one of the challenges that we are faced with," said Fikile Vilakazi, head of the Public Education and Advocacy at Equality Project.

Vilakazi went on to say that that their position on ilobolo was that the couples (gay and lesbian) have a right to choose whether to pay ilobolo.

"At the moment the ilobolo custom is still very gender specific: a man pays ilobolo only to a woman's family.

"The government needs to change the Customary Marriage Act so that it is inclusive of gay and lesbian couples who want to get married the traditional way," she said.

Vilakazi used an example that marriages of traditional healers who were lesbian had taken place and that they had married in the traditional way so that they could protect their calling.

One of the other points made by the people of Zembeni, South Coast, who had gathered at the tribal court for the hearing, was that the approval of same sex marriages would be an act in defiance of their ancestors.

The consensus among the villagers was that the ancestors would never allow such marriages and that anyone who defied them would face serious consequences.

A resident, Mjabulelwa Shozi, said that he did not understand why the government was only giving them a chance to voice their opinions on the issue of same sex marriages.

He said that there were many other Bills which had been passed by the government that had affected their lives.

"We have been non-existent in the past and the government did not consider us when it passed its laws, which needed our inputs,"

Shozi added that issues such as the legalisation of abortion had affected their communities.

"Our daughters are falling pregnant and without our consent they are having abortions. We have heard that these operations are not 100 percent safe," he said.

Whether same sex marriages become common, the question of who will pay ilobolo will still linger on, long after the debates on the validity of same sex marriages.

Share this article: