- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2005

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s highest court ruled in favor of homosexual “marriage” yesterday, a landmark decision that clears the way for the country to become the first to legalize same-sex unions on a continent where homosexuality remains largely taboo.

The decision does not take immediate effect, however. The Constitutional Court, which decided it is unconstitutional to prohibit homosexuals from “marrying,” gave Parliament a year to make the necessary legal changes. That disappointed homosexual rights activists, some of whom have been waiting years to “wed.”

“We were thinking we would be calling our friends today and inviting them to our wedding,” said Fikile Vilakazi of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, who proposed to her partner more than six months ago. “Now they are asking us to wait another year.”

South Africa recognized the rights of homosexuals in the constitution adopted after apartheid ended in 1994 — the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But the government has opposed attempts to extend the definition of marriage in court to include same-sex couples in the mostly Christian country.

Married couples have many rights that are denied to same-sex couples, including the right to make decisions on each other’s behalf in medical emergencies and inheritance rights if a partner dies without a will.

In delivering yesterday’s ruling, Judge Albie Sachs said legal definitions of marriage as a union between a man and a woman “are accordingly inconsistent with sections … of the constitution to the extent that they make no provision for same-sex couples to enjoy the status, entitlements and responsibilities they accord to heterosexual couples.”

The court instructed Parliament to extend the legal definition within a year or the courts would automatically do so, the South African Press Association reported.

Judge Kate O’Regan agreed with the other 10 members of the court that same-sex “marriage” should be legal but argued in a separate opinion that the court should put the changes into effect immediately — a view shared by homosexual rights groups.

One fear is that during the coming months, lawmakers could attempt to water down the decision by introducing a different category of “marriage” for same-sex couples, Miss Vilakazi said. Proposals previously debated in Parliament include the introduction of “civil unions,” which would provide the same legal benefits as marriage but not oblige religious institutions to solemnize them, she said.

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