PRESS RELEASEPARLIAMENT’S APPROVAL OF BILL IS A VOTE AGAINST ACCOMMODATION OF DIVERSITY - 1 July 2020
PRESS RELEASE BY CAUSE FOR JUSTICE: 1 JULY 2020
** BREAKING NEWS ** * FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE *
SUBJECT: PARLIAMENT’S APPROVAL OF BILL IS A VOTE AGAINST ACCOMMODATION OF DIVERSITY
During a plenary session this morning, the National Council of Provinces (the NCOP)[i] adopted the Civil Union Amendment Bill (the Bill)[ii] and removed the legislative recognition of the right to conscientious objection.
The right to conscientious objection protects civil marriage officers (i.e. marriage officers employed by the state) from being forced to preside over same sex marriage unions if it would violate their conscience or sincerely held beliefs.
While not all MP’s voted in favour of the Bill,[iii] 33 members (representing roughly one-third of the MP’s in the NCOP and the majority of members who voted on the Bill) still failed to recognise that the right to conscientious objection is an important legal mechanism by which the values of our constitutional democracy are upheld.
Since the Bill’s introduction in Parliament, Cause for Justice (CFJ) has continuously implored Parliament to uphold fundamental rights,[iv] promote the values that underlie our constitutional democracy and honour the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights.[v]
CFJ has consistently argued that a legislative framework that protects and promotes the rights of both same sex couples and civil marriage officers who are conscientious objectors – which is exactly what the conscientious objection clause does – is to be preferred above any legal regime where either group’s rights are denied at the expense of others’ rights.
CFJ has also repeatedly pointed out that the current wording of the conscientious objection clause in the Civil Union Act (the Act)[vi] is not problematic. The Act in no way denies same sex couples the right to enter into a civil union. It is the implementation of the Act – an administrative rather than a legislative matter – which needs to be addressed by the executive branch of government and the public administration, not the legislature.[vii]
Having been approved by Parliament, the Bill will now go to the President for final consideration.
CFJ will continue to follow its progress closely (including engaging the Presidency) – remaining committed to defend our constitutional democracy and laws that promote and protect the rights and freedoms of all South Africans and celebrate the rich diversity of her people.
[PRESS RELEASE ENDS]
KINDLY NOTE that, since the above matter entails a delicate balance of fundamental rights of both same sex couples and religious marriage officers, should you wish to publish an amended version of our press release, kindly contact us prior to doing so. This will allow us the opportunity to confirm that any amended version correctly reflects Cause for Justice’s position in respect of this matter.
For further queries, contact CFJ at:
Tel: 074 355 0775
[PREVIOUS CFJ PRESS RELEASES AND ARTICLES]
26 April 2018 – Resolving the Civil Unions / Conscientious objection conundrum
[i] National Council of Province is the second House of Parliament.
[ii] The Civil Union Amendment Bill [B11B-2018].
[iii] The Bill was adopted by 33 votes (for) to 5 votes (against).
[iv] Since the Bill’s introduction to Parliament in May 2018, CFJ has closely followed and participated in its progress.
CFJ delivered written submissions to both the National Assembly’s (the first House of Parliament) Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs and NCOP’s Select Committee on Security and Justice – commenting in detail on the constitutional aspects of the Bill and other relevant practical considerations.
[v] In the matter of Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie, the Constitutional Court addressed the important issue of the recognition and accommodation of difference of intensely-held world views and lifestyles in the public square, holding that:
 “[t]he hallmark of an open and democratic society is its capacity to accommodate and manage difference of intensely-held world views and lifestyles in a reasonable and fair manner. The objective of the Constitution is to allow different concepts about the nature of human existence to inhabit the same public realm, and to do so in a manner that is not mutually destructive and that at the same time enables government to function in a way that shows equal concern and respect for all.”; and
 “…the principle of reasonable accommodation could be applied by the state to ensure that civil marriage officers who had sincere religious objections to officiating at same-sex marriages would not themselves be obliged to do so if this resulted in a violation of their conscience.”
[vii] Parliament seemed to take no heed to a number of practical solutions recommended by CFJ to address current shortcomings in the service delivery of some Home Affairs offices in certain geographical locations. These practical solutions would ensure the availability of civil marriage officers willing to preside over same sex marriage unions at every Home Affairs office.