South Africa

Ramaphosa signs Civil Union Amendment Bill into law

President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed the Civil Union Amendment Bill into law, in a move that will now see marriage officers in the employ of the state no longer having to decide whether to officiate same-sex marriages or not.

Under the new 2020 Civil Union Amendment Act, which was gazetted yesterday, marriage officers will now be barred from objecting to solemnise same-sex marriages.

The move has been slammed by Christian non-profit organisation Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) who lamented that the amendment to the law failed to replace the right of marriage officers to solemnising same sex marriages with another remedy that meets constitutional standards.

FOR SA’s legal advisor Daniela Ellerbeck said in light of the serious concerns regarding the constitutionality of the bill and the public controversy surrounding it, FOR SA petitioned Ramaphosa to exercise his constitutional prerogative to refrain from signing the bill into law and instead rather refer it back to Parliament for reconsideration.

“In particular, FOR SA pointed out that the bill is in direct conflict with Justice Sachs’ recommendation in the Fourie case which legalised same-sex marriage and resulted in the Civil Union Act of 2007.

“In his judgment, Justice Sachs recommended that State-employed marriage officers who have conscientious objections to personally solemnising same-sex marriages, could have their rights reasonably accommodated by the state.

“The 'conscientious objection clause' which was contained in section 6 of the Civil Union Act was Parliament’s response to this very recommendation by the Constitutional Court.

“It has now been removed by the amendment act however, without replacing it with another legal arrangement for state-employed marriage officers to have their fundamental rights respected and protected,” said Ellerbeck.

She said the bill caused “a great deal of public controversy”, with many legal academics and parties directly affected by the law, highlighting various aspects of the bill’s unconstitutionality and its failure to find a way to respect and protect all fundamental rights, as required by the Constitution.

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