Current Affairs

Gay unions in South Africa delayed by bureaucracy

Tony Grew January 15, 2007
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Lesbian and gay couples in South Africa hoping to get married in church are facing delays because of a backlog of people waiting to take a qualification exam.

Government “registrars,” called marriage officers, were all trained about the Civil Unions Act last year, before the Act became law.

Any other person who can officiate at a wedding, such as a church minister, are required to take an exam before they can carry out same-sex unions.

Non-government marriage officers have complained that the home affairs department of the South African government is taking too long to process applications for a ‘same-sex’ licence.

Marriage officers are supposed to receive a study pack from the home affairs department to help them prepare for their exam.

A pastor who is due to carry out his first civil union in April told that he has not even received his study pack, despite applying to sit the exam in the first week of December.

Gordon Oliver, pastor at the Unitarian Church and a former mayor of Cape Town, is concerned that his application will not be approved in time.

The government marriage officers are also feeling the bureaucratic strain. In Cape Town the earliest available date for a civil union ceremony is the end of March.

“We have received calls from people about the waiting process.

“The bill has been around for more than a month now but people are concerned that they still can’t be married,” said Vista Kalipa of Triangle Project gay rights organisation.

Part of the problem is that so few churches are interested in having same sex union ceremonies in church. In the UK, churches are specifically barred from performing civil partnerships.

One marriage officer said he would like to bless same sex unions but his church has set its face against them.

“There are many people within religious institutions who feel the same way but, because our churches are against the bill, our minds are made up for us,” he told

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