- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South African lawmakers passed legislation recognizing same-sex “marriages” yesterday despite criticism from both traditionalists and homosexual activists.

The bill, unprecedented on a continent where homosexuality is taboo, was decried by homosexual activists for not going far enough and by opponents who warned that it “was provoking God’s anger.”

Veterans of the governing African National Congress praised the civil union bill for extending basic freedoms to everyone under the spirit of the country’s first post-apartheid constitution, adopted a decade ago by framers determined to put discrimination in the past.

“When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust, painful past by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed, culture and sex,” Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.

South Africa’s constitution was the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, providing a powerful legal tool to homosexual rights activists even though South Africa remains conservative on such issues.

A Christian lawmaker, Kenneth Meshoe, said it was the “saddest day in our 12 years of democracy” and warned that South Africa “was provoking God’s anger.”

The Roman Catholic Church and many traditionalist leaders in South Africa said the measure denigrated the sanctity of marriages between men and women.

To ease some of these concerns, the bill allowed both religious and civil officers to refuse to “marry” same-sex couples on moral grounds.

Homosexual rights groups criticized this “opt-out” clause, saying they should be treated the same as heterosexual couples, but in general, they praised the measure.

The National Assembly passed the bill on a 230-41 vote with three abstentions. The measure now goes to the National Council of Provinces, which is expected to be a formality, before being signed into law by President Thabo Mbeki.

The bill was drafted to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling in December that said existing marriage legislation was unconstitutional because it discriminated against same-sex couples. The court set a Dec. 1 deadline for parliament to change the law.

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and most other sub-Saharan countries. Some countries also are debating constitutional amendments to ban same-sex “marriages.”

Denmark in 1989 became the first country to legislate for same-sex partnerships and several other European Union members have followed suit. In the United States, only Massachusetts allows same-sex “marriage.” Vermont and Connecticut permit civil unions, California grants similar status through a domestic-partner registration law, and more than a dozen states give same-sex couples some legal rights.

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