It was hailed as a sign that the continent was becoming more tolerant towards homosexuality, but now campaigners are claiming South Africa’s gay union legislation falls short of what they were promised by the country’s highest court last year.

Last December the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that same-sex marriages should enjoy the same legal status as those between men and women, thereby giving the parliament a year to amend the 1961 marriage law.

But South African gay group OUT LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) has expressed disappointment at the Civil Union Bill which is presently before parliament.

A statement said: “The Bill falls short of granting full marriage to same sex couples. We believe that the Bill does not honour the Constitutional Court judgement, which affirms that both the symbolic and legal equality of marriage should be extended to same sex couples.

“The fact that the State Legal Adviser has declined to certify the current version of the Bill, is a further cause for concern. It is against the advice of the SLA that the Ministry is pushing forward the Bill, adding further doubt to its constitutionality.

“Whilst the Bill introduces a ‘civil partnership’ for same sex couples, which appears to provide the same legal benefits and protections to marriage, it would effectively still deny lesbian and gay people the right to enter into the institution of marriage.”

Fikile Vilakazi, OUT’s advocacy officer, said: “Civil partnerships will mean the administration of a separate legal structure for same sex couples. This sends out a message that gay and lesbian people are second class citizens. The civil partnership option should be provided in addition to marriage, not as a replacement to it.”

However, OUT does commend the section of the Bill that relates to domestic partnerships, in so far at it extends legal protections to unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Melanie Judge, OUT’s programme manager, said: “We call on parliament to interrogate the implications of the Civil Union Bill for same-sex couples, and to engage lesbian and gay people in the process of public participation as it is our equality and dignity that is ultimately at stake here.”

In passing new legislation for same sex couples, parliament will need to comply with the sentiments expressed by the Court, which said, “..whatever legislative remedy is chosen must be as generous and accepting towards same-sex couples as it is to heterosexual couples, both in terms of the intangibles as well as the tangibles involved.

“In a context of patterns of deep past discrimination and continuing homophobia, appropriate sensitivity must be shown to providing a remedy that is truly and manifestly respectful of the dignity of same-sex couples.”

Parliament has been given until the end of the year to change the law.