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December 8, 2006
SGN.org
Volume 34
Issue 49
 
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South Africa weds same-sex couples
South Africa weds same-sex couples
by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

South Africa's Civil Union Act was signed into law by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on Nov. 30 and took immediate effect. President Thabo Mbeki was out of the country.

A response to a Constitutional Court ruling which declared the Marriage Act's discrimination against same-sex couples unconstitutional, the oddly worded Civil Union Act provides for the "

voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union." Mlambo-Ngcuka said the new law "is in line with the constitutional court judgment ... which found that the common law definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, 1961, is inconsistent with the constitution of the Republic of South Africa."

It was not immediately clear if this means South Africa has legalized full same-sex marriage -- as in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain -- or something "separate but equal" for Gays, as numerous nations have done. The wording of the Marriage Act itself has not been directly changed.

Vernon Gibbs and Tony Halls were the first couple to tie the knot, on Dec. 1 in the town of George in Western Cape Province.

"Marriage means a lifetime commitment," Gibbs told the South African Press Association. "It means to cherish, obey, love, honor. It means through sickness and health. All those relevant words I never thought would be for me."

Meanwhile, on Nov. 23 the Constitutional Court granted same-sex couples -- married, civil-unioned or not -- the same inheritance rights as opposite-sex couples.

The court ordered that in all relevant legislation -- including laws that govern inheritance when there is no will -- every mention of the word "spouse" be changed to "spouse or partner in a permanent same-sex life partnership in which the partners have undertaken reciprocal duties of support."

The ruling came in a case brought by a Gay man whose home was taken away by his partner's parents after the partner died.

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