Thursday, November 16, 2006

Christian Lawyers Association comment on Final Civil Union Bill

Christian Lawyers Association
The Christian Lawyers Association is deeply disappointed at the final outcome of the
process leading up to Parliament’s decision to pass the highly controversial Civil Union
The Association is of the view that the Bill falls far short of being a fair and equitable
piece of legislation. It appears that the legislature has gone far beyond what the Court
required in an effort to make the Bill constitutional and at the same time meet the one
year deadline of December 1. Furthermore, it has failed to achieve the objective that
Judge Sachs set out in the judgment when he stated that “the hallmark of an open and
democratic society is its capacity to accommodate and manage difference of intensely held
worldviews and lifestyles in a reasonable and fair manner.” Hence, the demand on
government to divide the public space fairly, giving due consideration to the rights of all
South Africans. The interests of the overwhelming majority of South Africans have not
been taken into account, despite the unprecedented engagement of individuals and
interest groups from different cultures, religious faiths and denominations in the public
hearings that were held around the country.

We believe that Government has failed the people of South Africa.
It took the Minister of Home Affairs a full eight months to act on the judgment that was
passed down on 1 December 2005. The first draft of the Bill was only introduced to
Parliament and made available to the public late in August 2006. This gave only two
months for civil society organizations and other stakeholders to study it and engage with
Parliament on the matter. This simply was not enough time to do justice to assessing the
bill and give proper consideration to the input made by the public. The Association is of
the view that passing the bill amounts to an abuse of legislative power, given the
importance of the issue, the significant public outcry against the bill and the unmitigated
bungle at the last minute in efforts to make ill-advised amendments that will most
certainly have devastating implications in the future. We are of the view that this raises
questions of legitimacy, both of the Bill as well as the process, and we do not believe that
it serves the interests of the country.
In it’s submission to Parliament the Christian Lawyers Association proposed that
government make an urgent application to have the order of the Constitutional Court
suspended in order that more time be given to properly evaluate the draft bill. This would
also have provided for the required participation of the public to be properly assimilated.
Concerns about the impact of the draft bill on other legislation, in particular the
Children’s Act of 2005, were also highlighted in the submission.

There is little doubt that the full consequences of the Civil Union Bill will only become
evident once it has been adopted onto the statute books. The Christian Lawyers
Association anticipates that the Bill in its present form will lead to an unprecedented
wave of litigation in which the rights to freedom of conscience and belief and religious
freedom will be challenged by those wanting to impose the equality rights of the gay and
lesbian minority onto the greater populace. This has been the trend elsewhere in the
world, particularly in Canada, where similar legislation has led to ongoing conflict and
the polarization of society. There is no reason to believe that South Africa will escape this
trend. Questions have already been raised as to the rights of private individuals who, on
grounds of conscience, do not want to make their business premises available for gay
marriage ceremonies. This will no doubt also be the case for civil marriage officers who
object to solemnizing gay marriages. We predict that the cost to the country in the long
term will be immense.
Released by:
Christian Lawyers Association
P O Box 4665
Enquiries - Denise Woods (National Director)
Telephone 012-424-9400

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