Cope scores a victory for same-sex couples

Picture: iStock

Picture: iStock

The Bill is aimed at removing section 6 of the Civil Union Act to provide for home affairs officers not to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

The Congress of the People (Cope) is making waves with leading constitutional rights legislation after a Private Members Bill the party initiated was adopted by the portfolio committee on home affairs yesterday.

Cope chief whip and party deputy secretary-general Deidre Carter initiated and tabled the Private Members Bill that is aimed at removing section 6 of the Civil Union Act to provide for home affairs officers not to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

A constitutional expert welcomed this as “progressive”, adding it was good that no state employee may refuse to marry same-sex people, otherwise the state had to apply disciplinary measures against the state officer concerned.

Currently, section 6 allowed the officers in state employ to apply to be exempt from solemnising same-sex marriages on the grounds of their conscience or religious belief. But that is soon going to change.

“This provision impinged on fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution, including that of equality,” Carter said.

The committee members supported the Bill, which was one of two constitution-based Bills that Cope initiated and tabled in the National Assembly.

The other was the Private Members Bill submitted by Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota seeking to allow individuals to stand as independent candidates for election to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

Presently, only at local government level are independent candidates allowed, something that Lekota said was unconstitutional.

If his proposal was adopted, it would help to return the power to the people instead of residing with political parties.

Recently, the Constitutional Court, led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, voiced concern about the lack of legislative guidance to enable an individual’s right to stand for public office, something Mogoeng said was “tied up to the right to vote in elections for any legislative body”.

An upbeat Carter said that with the amendment of section 6 of the Civil Union Act, the state may not unfairly discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation and values, and principles by which the country’s public administration should be governed.

The adoption of the Bill was unlikely to meet resistance from the majority of political parties represented in parliament unless it would be merely for political grandstanding.

Constitutional law expert Prof Pierre de Vos welcomed the change which, he said, was a “progressive development” which was in line with the constitution.

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