South Africa’s gay marriage laws have been given the final seal of approval after the country’s Vice-President signed off on the bill.

In a low key process, reflecting the controversial nature of the law, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka signed the bill while President Thabo Mbeki was away in Nigeria.

The Civil Union Bill was approved by the National Council of Provinces this week. It allows the “voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnised and registered by either a marriage or civil union.”

The law was approved earlier this month by 230 votes to 41, making South Africa the only part of the continent to allow gay marriage, amongst many gay hostile countries.

It has received a rather negative reaction from religious leaders within the country and on the continent.

Somalia’s Islamic leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told Reuters that the law was brought in because of outside influence, “This is a foreign action imposed on Africa.

“This is not something that is indigenous to Africa, it is something that has come from abroad.”

In Tanzania, Nicklaus Mwanaseri, a taxi driver, (well known even in Africa for their political views,) told the news agency that the law would bring about the end of the world.

“I see a big flood coming soon because of going against God’s teaching,” he said.

However, gays and lesbians in neighbouring countries say the law sets a good example.

Laurent Laroche, spokesman for Mauritian gay rights group, Collectif Arc-en-Ciel, is proud of the country, “I feel very, very proud for South Africans. It is a great model for us, for Africa.”

In Uganda, where the community has come under increasing scrutiny, lesbian Faridah Kenyini, who was deported earlier from this week from the UK, said: “In Uganda, I have to hide myself. I can’t bring my

girlfriend here or risk being persecuted.”

However, a Kenyan gay man warned that the law could lead to anti-gay incitement, he told Reuters: “What this will do is open up a flood of gay bashing. No one will say, let’s think about this, lets talk about it. No one will say, these people exist, let’s give them a voice.”

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.