Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Separate ≠ Equal

A little while ago I received a response from a priest who wrote to me about the subject of marriage equality in South Africa.

I had said in an interview with Behind the Mask - and he quoted me: "Gay people can marry, but under a separate Act, and also, without a choice of in or out of community of property, and also without the freedom of choice to have a religious ceremony or not - and as Apartheid made us all keenly aware, separate is not equal - but it certainly is separate", Engela said.""

He said: "Of course gays can get married under the Civil Union Act; but surely they have the choice of having an ante nuptial contract drawn up before they get married! They also do have the choice of having a religious wedding ceremony, there are ministers of religion who are marriage officers under the Civil Union Act, I am one of them and I do officiate at same sex religious weddings."

I had of course been quoting a legal expert who had spoken to a community gathering at an ECGLA event in Port Elizabeth several weeks before - at least on the subject of the ANC - no, not Juliaaas - but on the Anti-Nuptial Contract.

What I liked about the person who wrote the letter, was his statement that he officiates at same gender weddings - but I was still unclear about whether this was as a de facto religious personage, as to my knowledge, the Catholic Church still forbids its members from doing so. For that reason, I decided not to mention his name in my reply, which is included below:

Thank you for taking the time to comment. I would like to respond though:

If same sex couples wishing to marry have to make special arrangements in order to meet (or nearly meet) the same standards or conditions as heterosexual couples marrying - is it really "equal"?

If same sex couples wish to marry in their own churches, how can this happen if their church or denomination refuses to allow them the same courtesy accorded to heterosexual couples? Is this equal?

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The TSA liked having fresh agents on the job with a clear mind and steady hand.  Time travel wasn’t for the faint of heart.  The pay was good enough, but as Scrooby had decided long ago, that even if he didn’t get paid for it, the thrill alone was payment enough.  Then again, the TSA realized they couldn’t afford to have disgruntled employees with the power of God at their fingertips, so the pay was very, very good.

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Taking this a step further, how many denominations permit same gender marriage ceremonies in their buildings - or allow their ministers to officiate at same gender weddings? How many denominations tolerate gay clergy or their gay ministers themselves to be married? (I quote the case of Rev Ecclesia de Lange who was dismissed from the Methodist Church of SA for marrying her partner in a church of another denomination as an example).

Furthermore, considering the general scarcity of churches available to facilitate same sex weddings - and clergy legally able to officiate over such weddings, how is this in any way shape or form EQUAL to heterosexual marriage?

Aside from the added inconvenience of having to search for church and minister - incurring added travel and accommodation costs, how is this equal?

How is being left with the "Hobson's choice" of getting married by a Home Affairs officer in a shabby, non-religious, Home Affairs chapel, equal? The entrance to the wedding chapel in Port Elizabeth for example is inside the Home Affairs office, filled with queues of aggravated noisy people standing in winding lines, waiting to be served. What a romantic sight to behold when you emerge from the chapel!

Apparently, according to legal experts the so-called "civil union act" doesn't provide for anti-nuptial contracts, at least, not as far as same-gender couples are concerned.

Straight couples can easily get religious weddings - in fact, it is automatically assumed that this will be the case. Straight couples can also get civil unions if they don't want to have religious weddings - but gay couples still struggle and have to fight to get religious weddings - and essentially today, even when they do get married - they are just getting a civil union with a thin coat of dodgy paint covered in grit and unwanted debris in a slightly different shade of what they didn't want.

What we have here is an act which gives gay people "marriage" and calls itself not the "Marriage Equality Act", or the "Gay Marriage Act" - but the "Civil Union Act". Not even the name of the Act indicates equality. Aha.

So you think you're getting married, do you? No. You're getting civil union-ed.

If marriage equality in South Africa was truly a reality, then the existing Marriage Act would have been amended to reflect marriage between two consenting adults, with no mention of gender. If marriage equality was a fact for gay people in South Africa, then gay people would not be referred to the "Civil Unions Act" instead of the "Marriage Act" - and they would be able to get married in the same way and same places as hetero couples.

I haven't seen any gay couples appearing in the Herald's La Femme Bride & Groom of the Year competition, have you? In fact, I haven't seen any announcements in the smalls about gay weddings or notes of congratulation in the papers. Equal? Really?

If marriage equality existed in South Africa, then there would be no special proviso's for one group over another. If gay couples really had marriage equality in South Africa, then there would be no separation of us from the word and concept of marriage, not even in terms of convenience.

Here in South Africa we have a long history of people trying to sell the concept that "separate" somehow can still mean "equal". One would think by now that, as a nation, we would know better.


  1. Hi There,
    I am a gay man, who one day whishes to marry a special guy one day. In this light I whish to give my own opinion to your article.
    My mother wanted to marry her boyfriend last year and had considerable trouble doing so. She was living with him and most of the churches in our area did not want to marry them saying "They are living in sin" and that meant that even as a heterosexual couple their relationship was not right from the get go according to them. They finnally found a minister that would marry them only on the provision that they meet up regularly for a marriage course with him. My point is that churches have their beliefs that they keep to even with heterosexual couples. I not want to be married by someone that do not whish the best for my relationship or is greeved to do so. If I can get married and have the same 'rights' as straight couples then I do not mind the churches that do not want to marry me. And to force them to do so would be me infringing in their 'rights'. I know there are alot of people that will differ in my opinion but I suppose we do not live in an ideal world.

  2. Hi Andre' - thanks for that. I know what you mean, though I am sure the more liberal churches wouldn't take much issue with co-habitation. Even when I got married (hetero) back in 1998, my very liberal church wanted us to attend marriage classes for a few weeks before the wedding - and we weren't even living together. Strangely enough while this church has no problem with people living together, it has an issue with marriage equality for gay people. In fact, some churches even refuse to marry transsexuals - even if their paperwork is in order and they are getting married "straight". They go so far as to define marriage as between a "natural" man and a "natural" woman. LOL :)

    No, I guess in an ideal world we wouldn't have to suck up to people who sit in that pulpit pretending to be God.