How South Africa Became An Unlikely World Leader For LGBTQ Rights

By Parker Diakite


In the fight for LGBTQ+ Rights in many countries around the world, South Africa has paved the way for same-sex marriage and legal protection against discrimination.

Related Post: George Clooney Calls For Brunei Hotel Boycott Over LGBT Death Penalty

Following the system of racial segregation that existed in South Africa until the early 1990s, known as Apartheid, South Africa’s parliament established laws in the final constitution in 1996 that would protect people against discrimination based on sexual orientation: the first in the world to establish such legislation.

One year after a landmark decision by South Africa’s Constitutional Court in which the country’s highest court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples have the right to marry, the South African parliament legalized same-sex marriage on Nov. 30, 2006.

South Africa is the only country in Africa and was the fifth country in the world to legalize same sex marriage, as reported in the New York Times.

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Same-Sex Marriage in South Africa

Marriage equality in South Africa was enacted shortly after the high profile case of Minister of Home Affairs v. Fourie.

Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys, a lesbian couple who wished to marry, petitioned the court to have their right to marriage recognized after being denied a few years prior based on common law, as reported in The Independent.

By a vote of 230-41, the National Assembly passed the Civil Union Bill, which provides the “voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union.”  The legislation does not specify if the partnerships are heterosexual or homosexual. 

The law, however, includes a provision that allows for religious institutions and civil officers to refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.  Critics argue that the provision in the law violates the rights of same-sex couples under the constitution, according to Pew Forum.

Public Opinion In South Africa

At a time when many countries are banning same-sex marriage, some leaders are even calling for rounding up LGBT persons or making homosexuality punishable by death, activists have applauded South Africa as a step forward for Africa.

Related Post: United States ‘Deeply Concerned’ Over Tanzania’s Strict Anti-LGBTQ Laws

Homosexuality remains largely taboo across the continent. In Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ghana, same-sex relationships are illegal.

Despite South Africa’s ruling in favor of same-sex equality, a recent study found that while 51 percent believe gay people should have the same human rights, more than 70 percent of residents feel that same sex activity is “morally wrong.”

A different study found that more than 50 percent of those surveyed feel that they might experience discrimination due to their sexual orientation. In addition, 44 percent of the queer community stated that they have experience verbal, physical, and sexual discrimination in their everyday lives. 

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South Africa:  An Unlikely World Leader For LGBTQ+ Rights

LGBTQ+ activists have applauded South Africa’s decision as a step forward for Africa and around the world.

Following the government’s ruling in 2006, nearly two-dozen countries have since passed laws recognizing same-sex marriage.

In Kenya, LGBT communities are awaiting a highly anticipated court case that would retain a colonial-era law that would criminalize homosexuality or eliminate it.

If the court chooses to abolish the law, Kenya would join South Africa and a small group of African nations that give LGBTQ+ people equal and legal rights, as reported in the Washington Post.

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