Important changes to the Civil Unions Bill as deadline looms

The Business Day has a story today about some important changes which have been made to the Civil Unions Bill which is presently being considered by Parliament and which is intended to replace the Marriage Act which was declared unconstitutional last year.  Parliament has until the end of this month to pass new legislation or the Marriage Act will be deemed to have been amended to cure the constitutional defects in the current legislation.

The changes to the draft legislation are intended to fast track the passing of the Bill into law.  These changes include removal of all references to sexual orientation and gender and the inclusion of all marriages under the title of "civil union".  In addition, the draft provisions dealing with domestic partnerships have been removed and will presumably be dealt with at a later stage in separate legislation.  These changes represent a significant blow to conservative political and religious groups that have been pushing for an amendment to the Bill of Rights to safeguard the traditional concept of marriage.

I hope to have a perspective from Dr David Bilchitz (who participated in a pretty intense debate over a previous version of the Bill last month), the chairperson of Jewish Outlook, a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (I hope I got that right) co-ordinating group once he has had a chance to discuss the latest version of the Bill with his colleagues in detail and form a view on it.  I’ll then post a follow-up with their views.

This process is an incredibly important process in South Africa.  It goes to the heart of an effort to have a marginalised group of South Africans regarded as equals and it is not dissimilar to the fabled struggle by the majority of South Africans to be recognised as being equals to white South Africans after decades of institutionalised discrimination and prejudice.

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