PRESS RELEASECONSCIENCE OBJECTION TO SOLEMNISING SAME SEX MARRIAGES REACHING ‘RUBICON’ IN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE - 11 June 2020
PRESS RELEASE BY CAUSE FOR JUSTICE: 11 JUNE 2020 ** DEVELOPING STORY **
* FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE *
SUBJECT: CONSCIENCE OBJECTION TO SOLEMNISING SAME SEX MARRIAGES REACHING ‘RUBICON’ IN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE
Human rights organisation, Cause for Justice (CFJ) is making an urgent appeal to Parliament to uphold fundamental rights. The plea comes in the wake of CFJ obtaining a copy of a Parliamentary briefing presentation (the presentation) riddled with errors of law, ostensible biased legal interpretations and other deficiencies.
CFJ first reported on this matter at the end of last week in a 5 June Press Release.
The presentation was prepared by Parliamentary Legal Services (PLS) to brief the Select Committee on Security and Justice[i] (the Committee) on the Civil Union Amendment Bill(the Bill).[ii] The Bill proposes the removal of civil marriage officers’ right to conscientious objection[iii] – a right which protects marriage officers employed by the state from being forced to preside over marriage unions if it would violate their conscience or sincerely held beliefs.
Members of Parliament rely on the PLS to provide them with accurate, thorough and unbiased expositions of the law that applies to the legislative proposals before them. The PLS has done a great disservice to the Committee – and South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
Without an unbiased and balanced understanding of the principle of reasonable accommodation and the right to conscientious objection, it can be misconstrued as unfair discrimination or worse, incitement to bigotry – which it is not. On the contrary, properly construed the conscientious objection clause is a legal mechanism by which the values of our constitutional democracy are upheld.[iv]
In order to assist the Committee to remedy the misdirection resulting from the presentation content, CFJ earlier today provided the Committee with commentary on the erroneous and deficient aspects of the presentation.
Since the Bill’s introduction in Parliament in May 2018, CFJ has closely followed and participated in its progress. CFJ has delivered written submissions to both the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs[v] and the Select Committee on Security and Justice.
It has also repeatedly requested both the aforementioned committees to allow public hearings in respect of the Bill. Hearings would have allowed interested parties and stakeholders an opportunity to engage elected representatives directly and allowed opportunity for elucidation of matters of uncertainty or on which there are conflicting views. Given the irregularities / constitutionally flawed PLS briefings on the Bill, the necessity for oral/direct engagement has become all the more important. CFJ and other stakeholders have been denied a critical opportunity to serve the legislature in this case.
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, is to be preferred above any legal regime where either group’s rights are denied at the expense of others’ rights.[vi]
As a human rights organisation, Cause for Justice supports 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]
26 April 2018 – Resolving the Civil Unions / Conscientious objection conundrum
[i] The Select Committee on Security and Justice is a committee of the National Council of Provinces, the second House of Parliament.
[ii] The Civil Union Amendment Bill [B11B-2018].
[iii] Section 6 of the Civil Union Act, 17 of 2006 reads:
Marriage officer not compelled to solemnise civil union
A marriage officer, other than a marriage officer referred to in section 5, may in writing inform the Minister that he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex, whereupon that marriage officer shall not be compelled to solemnise such civil union.
Note: Marriage officer referred to in section 5, are designated ministers of religion and other persons attached to religious denominations or organisations as marriage officers.
[iv] In the matter of Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Fourie and Another (CCT 60/04)  ZACC 19; 2006 (3) BCLR 355 (CC); 2006 (1) SA 524 (CC) (1 December 2005), 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. The Court held 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.”
[v] The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs is a committee of the National Assembly, the first House of Parliament.
[vi] This is exactly what the current law does in the form of section 6 of the Civil Unions Act.