Just hours into the Home Affairs ministerial dialogue on the enhancement of South Africa’s marriage policy, delegates found themselves locked in a debate on religious autonomy versus the provisions of the Constitution.
On Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi convened a gathering with religious leaders in Cape Town in a continued effort to shed light on the limitations of the South African Marriage Act and to find a way to enhance it.
The department’s director-general, Thulani Mavuso, said with the changing dynamics of the world, some legislation, which was relied upon by the government, had caught them flat-footed at times.
“The personal choices people make when it comes to marriage have changed and legislation has to reflect that.”
Mavuso added doing so would ensure that the department was not dragged to court for the limitations on legislation.
By the time Motsoaledi – who was stuck in Cabinet commitments for much of the morning – joined the conversation, tempers had already flared.
Much of the conversation had shifted from legislation to imposing of theological views, with the main bone of contention being the officiating of same-sex marriages.
“The Christian doctrine is at odds with me [as a marriage official] marrying same-sex couples,” one member of the audience declared.
Another went as far as pleading for legislation not to “force us” to go against personal beliefs (on same-sex marriages), but whatever changes were made to existing legislation “must be in line with the Constitution”, the member said in the same breath.
Motsoaledi said: “I’m not here to change your religious views. I am here because current legislation is not working and is not in line with our Constitution.
“Everything we do should be underpinned by equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.
“I won’t force anyone to officiate same-sex marriages because of their beliefs, but watch out for the legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination.”