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South Africa's Parliament approves homosexual unions, marking an historic day for gay rights
November 14 2006 will become a historic day for homosexuals in Africa. For the first time, the South African Parliament has passed a law authorizing homosexual marriage, although in limited form. The controversial law is opposed by many in the Church and doesn’t entirely satisfy the people directly affected.

Una coppia gay in Sudafrica The Law. The path to approval began a year ago, with a ruling by the Constitutional Court on a case brought by a gay couple and gave Parliament a year’s time to legislate approval of gay marriages. The South African constitution is the first in the world that specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Eleven months later, with a majority of 230 against 41, Parliament passed the Civic Union Bill, which modifies the previous Marriage Act by defining marriage as “a voluntary union between two persons,” without reference to their gender. The provision passed due to party discipline imposed by the African National Congress, which ordered its members to approve the bill despite any personal reservations they might have. In response a large segment of the religious community has charged that the new law doesn’t have the support of most of South Africa’s population.

Controversies. This was the argument of a press release distributed by the South African Catholic Bishop’s Conference (SACBC), which has not yet responded to repeated inquiries from PeaceReporter. According to SACBC, such a betrayal of majority opinion in South African would inflict a harsh blow on the young nation’s democratic system. But others, such as Deborah Bell, minister of the Deo Gloria Family Church, founded in 1991, support homosexual unions. “The perception of homosexuality is very complex,” Bell told PeaceReporter, “Every society in the world has a certain measure of homophobia. But in many cities in South Africa, especially Cape Town, homosexuals are widely accepted. The bishops’ viewpoint is not shared by all South African churches and religious communities.”

Partecipanti al Gay Pride in Sudafrica Precedents. The new provision has not met the approval of all homosexuals either. One controversial detail in the law allows officials to refuse to officiate at marriages that offend their religion or conscience. Bell argues, “Gay marriages have been legislated by a specific law. The Constitution guarantees the same rights to all regardless of sexual inclination. Why shouldn’t there be one law for everyone? That’s why I’m not alone, in maintaining that this law is unconstitutional.” Despite its defects, the new law is undeniably important and marks a historical moment for the entire continent. There are numerous African nations in which homosexuality is still a crime, such as Cameroon. The South African decision may mean that the climate in the continent is changing.
 
Matteo Fagotto