Despite pleas the country would become the “Sodom and Gomorrah of Africa,” South Africa has become the first nation on its continent to legalize homosexual unions.
Within hours of the Parliament’s passage of a same-sex-union statute, citizens protested the move was “against African culture.”
The standing South African Marriage Act defines marriage as the union of man and woman. Members of Parliament have said that this new Civil Union Act does not change the status of marriage, but adds the category of civil unions.
In 2005, the South African Constitutional Court ruled existing laws excluding same-sex unions were unconstitutional. South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first national constitution to explicitly outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In a BBC radio interview, Africans were invited to call in their reactions to the vote. Callers included citizens of other African nations who said they were “disgusted,” “revolted,” and saw the move as contrary to Africa’s traditional civilization. Others noted that South Africa, under the African National Congress, was a “progressive nation that we can be proud of.”
Pro-homosexual interviewees condemned those who saw the vote as unrepresentative of the citizens of South Africa.
“It is representative of a modern nation,” said a woman who described opposition to same-sex unions as bigotry. “There are a lot of conservatives out there” she noted, “but lesbianism is here to stay.”
Religious leaders expressed dismay the Parliament was unresponsive to pleas that such a law would make South Africa the “Sodom and Gomorrah of Africa.” According to the Old Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah were cities whose populations were destroyed by God due to their wicked actions, which included homosexual rape, as described in the 19th chapter of the Book of Genesis.
The Catholic prelate, Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, described the law as an “act against democracy. … The impression we had was that there is overwhelming opposition to this bill from people throughout South Africa.”
Some religious leaders angered by the law took consolation from the bill’s provision of a conscience clause for those who decline to officiate for homosexual unions.
Medical workers also questioned the new law.
South Africa has over five million HIV-positive citizens, including infants born with the virus. Criticism swirls around the government’s failure to treat sufficient numbers of HIV patients with appropriate drugs.
“They keep on moving the goalposts over the number of people receiving anti-retroviral drugs,” noted Diane Kohler Barnard, the health spokeswoman for the Democratic Alliance, an opposition party to the ruling African National Congress.
Worldwide, 16 nations have enacted some recognition of civil unions for same-sex pairs. The first nation to do so was Denmark in 1989. Not all nations that have legalized civil unions permit homosexual partners to adopt children.
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