Wednesday, November 15, 2006

South Africa approves gay equality for marriage

South Africa has joined the growing number of nations that recognizes marriage equality for gay couples. The South African Parliament approved the measure by a vote of 230 to 41. It was opposed by fundamentalists, racist groups like the Freedom Front, and traditionalists.

Many will credit the African National Congress for this progress but the ANC was reluctant and has many openly antigay leaders. The story of how this came to be can be traced back to CODESA, the conference where all parties hammered out a new constitution for a post-apartheid South Africa. The South African constitution specifically states that rights can not be denied on the basis of sexual orientation. It is quite clear the old marriage laws violated the constitution.

But for years the ANC has refused to make changes. And when human rights groups took matters to the courts the ANC led government opposed them every single time. No changes were made voluntarily by the ANC after they, along with all the other parties except the Christianists in the African Christian Democratic Party, approved the non-discrimination clause of the Constitution.

With the ANC battling gay equality the matters continued through the courts. And one year ago the Constitutional Court gave the government one year to implement change. They could grant same sex marriage equality or they could amend the constitution to delete the anti-discrimination clause or they could allow the court to grant the rights directly. This put the ANC in a quandary.

Violently antigay they also play out to the world that they are the paragons of tolerance. So they felt uneasy in changing the constitution. At the same time their own MPs opposed the measure. So the matter dragged on until the reached their deadline. The ANC then decided the best thing to do was to pass the new law granting equality. They told their MPs that there would be no free decision as to how they were voting. They had to support the measure. A few MPs who they knew would vote no anyway were conveniently redeployed to do things outside parliament to avoid embarrassing the party. If the ANC had not made this a mandatory vote for their MPs it would not have passed. Many, if not most, ANC MPs are antigay.

The classical liberal opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, told their MPs they could vote anyway they wanted. But almost all of them, including DA leader Tony Leon, supported the new law.

The ANC is pretending they voted this way because of their support for equality. They basically had their arms twisted by the Constitutional Court in reality. And ever since they took power they have actively opposed every effort to expand the equality rights of gay citizens.