Same-sex couples can legally get married from Thursday with the Civil Union Bill having been signed into law by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Mlambo-Ngcuka approved the legislation in her capacity as acting president during President Thabo Mbeki's absence, while he attends a conference in Nigeria.

The Act seeks to regulate the solemnisation and registration of civil unions, by way of either marriage or a civil partnership, and provides for the legal consequences of the solemnisation and registration of civil unions.

This is line with the Constitutional Court judgment in December last year in the case of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and Eighteen Others v the Minister of Home Affairs and Others.

The court found that the common law definition of marriage in the Marriage Act of 1961 was inconsistent with the Constitution, and invalid to the extent that it did not permit same-sex couples

to enjoy the status, benefits and responsibilities it accords to heterosexual couples.

The court set a deadline of December 1 this year for the necessary legislative amendments to be put into place.

Following extensive public hearings on the issue - during which it was strenuously opposed by religious and some other groupings - the National Assembly adopted the bill last Tuesday and the

National Council of Provinces a week later.

It was opposed by most opposition parties, while the Democratic Alliance allowed its members a free vote on the controversial measure. - Sapa