South Africans Grapple with New Gay Marriage Law
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
South Africa is the only African country where gay marriage is legal. And it's only one of five countries in the world where gay marriage is legal. The law went into effect this month.
But NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports that many South Africans are still opposed to gay marriage.
(Soundbite of applause)
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Familiar sounds of joy after wedding vows on a lovely afternoon. But this was no ordinary wedding. In fact, this was one of a few that could be called historic, taking place as the ink was barely dry on the new South African law permitting gays and lesbians to marry.
Unidentified Man: I think it was a great idea, a sign of an easier, enlightened world, enlightened society and truth.
HUNTER-GAULT: But the subject is still sensitive. And no one willing to discuss the matter one recent afternoon in Johannesburg wanted their names used.
The ruling African National Congress pushed the law through, but minority and Christian parties opposed it. One, calling it a Eurocentric eccentricity. The Catholic Church and other religious groups called the law ungodly and un-African. Sentiments reflected among some Christians in the streets of Johannesburg.
Unidentified Woman #1: And why did God make (unintelligible)? Because he didn't make man and man or woman and woman.
HUNTER-GAULT: He made Adam and Eve.
Unidentified Woman #1: Yes. It is not all right. Where can gay girls get their children if a man can marry a man, a woman can marry a woman?
HUNTER-GAULT: But it's not only Christians who oppose the measure.
Unidentified Man #1: I'm a Muslim. I hate it.
HUNTER-GAULT: You hate it?
Unidentified Man #1: I hate it.
Unidentified Man #1: I'm a Muslim. It's against Allah's law, God's law.
HUNTER-GAULT: Such attitudes are understandable says African scholar Matoli Masheka(ph).
Professor MATOLI MASHEKA (African Scholar): We are saying in our college that, that is contrary to nature.
HUNTER-GAULT: But Professor Masheka says that this does not mean that African's reject gay people whose presence in Africa he acknowledges, is as old as time.
Prof. MASHEKA: Homosexuals are human beings. They are our children, they are our sisters, they are our brothers. They are not entitled to any less rights, than anybody else. I'm not sure that because of the pressure of two white women, that it was necessary to go to next end where the whole nation has to be taken or not. Because in all of the communities, there are ways in which these things are dealt with. And it's not something that needs Parliament.
HUNTER-GAULT: The case arose from a successful court appeal two years ago by two white lesbians who asked that the common law definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman be changed to a union between two persons. In late November, the South African Parliament affirmed the ruling in the recent civil union law.
Tim Trengrove-Jones has written extensively on gay politics in South Africa. He says passing the law affirmed this young democracy.
Mr. TIM TRENGROVE-JONES (Writer): I think the ANC was very deeply put to the test of its principles and it stuck to those.
HUNTER-GAULT: Government officials have insisted the law is consistent with South Africa's new constitution, one of the most liberal in the world, which outlaws discrimination in any form. Jones also believes the debate over the law holds out the promise of opening up a much needed, but long avoided, discussion that could eventually affect many problem areas in the country, including the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
Mr. TRENGROVE-JONES: I think that for all of this talk about a sexuality which a lot of citizens in this country find repugnant and difficult, I think that that can feed into a wider discussion for instance. It's not really about rights which is very important but also about the status of women, about alternative sexualities, about negotiating say for sex practices and so on. It seems to be a grand opportunity, which we shouldn't miss.
HUNTER-GAULT: And some on the streets of South Africa clearly agree.
Unidentified man #2: And me personally, I'll fight for that also.
HUNTER-GAULT: Sentiments in line with a nearby street performer.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) I love you, I love you, I love you.
HUNTER-GAULT: Charlene Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg, South Africa.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.