Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since the Civil Union Act came into force on 30 November 2006. The decision of the Constitutional Court in the case of Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie on 1 December 2005 extended the common-law definition of marriage to include same-sex spouses—as the Constitution of South Africa guarantees equal protection before the law to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation—and gave Parliament one year to rectify the inequality in the marriage statutes. On 14 November 2006, the National Assembly passed a law allowing same-sex couples to legally marry 230 to 41, which was subsequently approved by the National Council of Provinces on 28 November in a 36 to 11 vote, and the law came into effect two days later.

South Africa was the fifth country, the first (and only, as of February 2017) in Africa, the first in the southern hemisphere, the first republic, and the second outside Europe to legalise same-sex marriage.’ Recently read this on Wikipedia.

Now let us unpack this policy, giving it meaning by including the human factor, because in paper it sounds perfect but in actual reality it is quite tricky. Firstly, well done to our democracy for recognising the rights of the minority because compared to other African countries, we are well ahead. The South African policies are so good that it makes implementation hard. Are we perhaps, as South Africans, jumping so high that we even forget the cultural barriers that continue to exist amongst our communities? Or is it because our policies are so ambitious, they are a tough act to follow? Well, it all rests in the following principles; understanding, acceptance, respect and equality.

I often wonder what happens after a policy or right has been passed in governmental departments in South Africa, i.e. Home affairs, Housing, DOE. Does government conduct workshops, or training in any form to orientate officials in new policies? I wonder because some of the stories I have come across prove this idea to be otherwise; for example there is a gay couple in Knysna who are currently struggling to get officials to marry them. The excuses they receive from government personnel is that performing such an act goes against their principles. This is quite shocking, as this is unprofessional let alone discriminative. The couple is even considering paying an official other than government to marry them. This is sad as this service is performed free of charge by Home Affairs. Please take note Knysna is a small town situated in Western Cape where I gather same sex marriages do not take place often.

Fortunately I am in a position to comment on this as I recently tied the knot to the love of my life. I must say at first anxiety took over both me and my partner the day we went to select a date for our union. We went to Cape Town Home Affairs where we expected to be judged, looked upon in a discriminatory manner – we even feared rejection. We expected this because of what happened to one of my oldest friends Andiswa, who tied the knot last year. Apparently her experience was the worst ever at the Nyanga Home Affairs in Western Cape. She and her partner were mocked, ridiculed and discriminated against to such an extent that her most memorable day turned into a nightmare. Fortunately due to their devotion, love and understanding of each other they endured all of that simply because they wanted to become one.

Things proved to be quite the opposite for us, as the government personnel were warm, caring and very supportive. There was just one minor detail that I noticed whilst completing the marriage application form – it contained the words husband and wife. This points back to implementation, but I didn’t let that pass without making my mark. I scratched out the word husband, in inverted commas I wrote in ‘WIFE’.

The other thorn that we experienced was that we both knew we could not inform our families because we know that their acceptance is limited. I recall my aunt at one stage politely informing me not to invite her should I ever decide to get married, and she boldly said, “No white wedding please”, as that would have embarrassed my family in the community. The very same reason we as same sex couples decide to marry is often the fact that our families never recognise our partners: they disrespect them and override any decisions we make regarding them. I have seen some of my friends at their partner’s funerals standing at the back instead of sitting in front with the family. They are not given any recognition at all, never mind the fact that they shared their lives with the deceased. Today, I am glad that my partner will never have to go through that the day I die and I thank God for making that possible. Pretty ironic that I thank the same God that we are told does not approve of same sex marriages by the church.

There other minor thorn we came across during the ceremony was when we were asked to choose who is partner A and partner B. I volunteered to be partner A simply because I’m older than my partner. The officer explained that in any household there needs to be a head of the house, but this bothered us because we both identify ourselves as head of households.

Clearly advocacy and education needs to take place as a lot of ignorance has been demonstrated in these government offices, in our communities, in our families and most importantly in our churches. Advocacy also begins with us as LGBTI community. When one plants a tree, you do not start in the middle but with the seeds in the soil or ground. Culture is not inherited but it is taught therefore it can be adjusted should need be.

Written by Nandipha Tshabane


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