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South Africa to allow same-sex marriages

Published Dec 11, 2005 9:07 AM

South Africa’s Constitutional Court recently ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriages is unlawful and gave parliament one year to bring marriage laws into conformity with the constitution. The definition of marriage will be changed from its current formulation of a “union between one man and one woman” to a “union between two persons.”

South Africa’s constitution was introduced in 1996 following the collapse of apartheid. It became the world’s first constitution to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court of Appeals had ruled a year before the recent Consti tutional Court decision that the existing marriage laws violated the constitution’s ban on discrimination. However, under right-wing pressure, some of it from churches, the Home Affairs Department appealed the ruling on the grounds that only the legislature could modify the definition of marriage.

On the surface the South African struggle for same-sex equality is not all that different from what occurs in the United States with the Christian right and other reactionary elements providing an obstacle to progressive change.

What is different is the amount of progress that South Africans have made in just over one decade of democracy and self-determination. Prior to the Consti tu tional Court’s ruling, South Africa already had a reputation for being in the vanguard on same-sex rights.

The South African system has now enshrined a greater degree of equality than that which exists in most of the so-called advanced “democracies” in Europe and North America.

The disparity in justice is an indicator of the development gap between the progressive forces in formerly colonized nations and those in the aggressor states. Within powerful capitalist countries with a history of imperialist or colonialist aggression—such as the United States—the peoples’ movements are often less developed and meet with fierce opposition. This hampers the progress of social change.

Progress can occur by comparative leaps and bounds in former colonies where a recently freed people, steeled by their struggle, experiment with new expressions of liberty and radical social policies. The pace of progress is a testament to how anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements such as the African National Congress are of benefit to all people living in former colonies. Complete liberation for all oppressed people is dependent upon the movement’s ability to carry the struggle through to its logical conclusion—revolutionary socialism.