- South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), and several church societies today welcomed yesterday's judgement by the Constitutional Court, legalising same-sex marriages. Most church societies, headed by the influential Anglican Church, say they will accept the judgement, but in particular appreciate the Court's note that no one is obliged to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Already yesterday, a spokesman of South Africa's Department of Home Affairs assured that the Pretoria government would abide by the Court's ruling and amend the national Marriage Act within the time limit of 12 months given by the Court. It was the Home Department that had appealed the case to the Constitutional Court after South Africa's Supreme Court had ordered government to change legislation in favour of gays and lesbians wanting to marry.
Today, also the ruling ANC party, which holds the parliamentary majority needed to change the Marriage Act, expressed its support. The party had "noted and respects the ruling," a statement issued today said. ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama went on praising the judgement.
The party said that "citizens should not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and that the constitution, legal system and institutions of state have a responsibility to uphold that basic human right," according to Mr Ngonyama. Yesterday's ruling was "an important step forward in aligning the laws of the country with the rights and freedoms contained in the South African constitution," he added.
Also South Africa's main opposition party, the conservative Democratic Alliance (DA), yesterday said it would respect the ruling. DA spokesman Tertius Delport however was somewhat more chilly in his comments. "It is clear that parliament will have to amend the law and should do so after consulting widely," Mr Delport said.
The opposition party’s position in general was that "we operate under the rule of law, which means that parliament would have to carry out the Constitutional Court’s Instructions." For Mr Delport, the issue was more of obligation than of joy. "Individual members of the DA will be able to exercise a free vote on this matter, as they do on matters of conscience," the party spokesman revealed.
South Africa's largest church communities reacted differently to yesterday's judgement. Most positive was the Anglican Church, led by the liberal Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane. Archbishop Ndungane has for years been the only African Anglican church leader to defend the rights of homosexuals, meeting stiff resistance from other African church provinces.
In a statement released today, Archbishop Ndungane therefore says that the Court's "Yes" to same-sex marriage leaves church policies "unchanged". He noted that the ruling was "a carefully considered judgement weighing up competing rights in the light of the South African Constitution."
The Anglican church leader pointed out that the Anglican Communion had a clear stance on marriage, which was only between man and woman, and that his Church therefore would not wed gay or lesbian couples. Mr Ndungane thanked the Court for its "sensitivity" when not ordering church communities to marry same-sex couples. "Therefore," he pointed out, the ruling "should not cause alarm."
"We recognise that we live in a country which is home to many beliefs, cultures and practices," said the Archbishop. "It would be arrogant and presumptuous of us to attempt to force our values and viewpoints on people who think differently from us. We would wish to value diversity in the way demonstrated today by the Constitutional Court," he added.
Also the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which organises all church societies in the country, today was more positive than negative. SACC President Russel Botman said, "We are pleased that the Court has left room for continuing public debate on this matter and, in particular, that it has given Parliament, as the voice of the people, the opportunity to engage the issue and to determine an appropriate way forward. This will give the SACC and its members an opportunity to make further input."
"We recognise that, for many lesbian and gay people in particular, the Court's decision comes as a joyful affirmation of their humanity and dignity," said Molefe Tsele, General Secretary of the SACC. "We share this joy with those lesbian and gay people who are members of our congregations and churches. We also acknowledge the pain and confusion that this ruling will bring to others among our members. We seek to accompany pastorally all who are wrestling with the difficult issues that this decision raises," Dr Tsele added.
Only a few church societies reacted strictly negative to the ruling, in particular the Catholic Church of South Africa. Church spokesmen said they would "never recognise" gay or lesbian marriages. The Dutch Reformed Church, in line with other major Protestant churches, was however more positive. Many of South Africa's Protestant church communities are currently experiencing internal conflict on how to treat homosexuals.
While both political parties and church societies reacted more positively to the ruling than expected, popular views on same-sex marriages remain mostly negative. Recent surveys documented that most South Africans are uncomfortable with homosexuality. Powerful traditional leaders, such as Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, repeatedly have said that homosexuality is "un-African". A survey conducted by the 'Daily News' in Durban yesterday found that most people were strongly against same-sex unions.
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