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Government to drastically update marriage legislation, what you need to know

marriage laws, Newcastillian, Department of Home Affairs
"When referring to current changes already made in the marriage legislation over the past 26 years, the Department of Home Affairs stresses there are still issues in the legislation which needs to be resolved."
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Marriage is the cohabitation of two like-minded people who have found one of the rarest opportunities in life—the chance to spend their existence and all that comes with it, with each other. 

However, there have been consenting adults who were denied the opportunity to solemnise their relationship for no apparent reason. But now standing testament to progression, this is drawing to an end, thanks to changes in South Africa’s marriage laws. Amendments which will see much-needed policy change.

While the COVD-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown hampered the proceedings of these changes, in a recent presentation, the Department of Home Affairs explained it is now planning to gazette the policy for public comment before the 2020/2021 financial year comes to an end.

Earlier this year, the department explained the current legalisation which currently standardises marriages in the country has been developed without embracing policies which focus not only on constitutional values but also a deeper understanding of changing aspects of modern society.

The Department of Home Affairs explains this has all led to diverse marriage rituals being recognised without any form of harmonisation.

When referring to current changes already made in the marriage legislation over the past 26 years, the department stresses there are still issues in the legislation which needs to be resolved. One of these issues is that the current legislation does not regulate certain religious marriages. This includes Islamic, Hindu and other customary marriages which are conducted in some African or royal families.

The department states, “Given the diversity of the South African population, it is virtually impossible to pass legislation governing every single religious or cultural marriage practice.”

Therefore, it explains it is against this background that the DHA is embarking in the process of developing a marriage policy that will lay a policy foundation for drafting a new single or omnibus legislation.”

Some of the most noteworthy changes to be implemented in the new policy include:

  • The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages. (Great news for the country!)
  • It will allow for unbiassed treatment and respect for religious and customary beliefs in line with Section 15 of the Constitution.
  • Additionally, the new policy will deal with the validation and registration of marriages that involve foreign nationals.
  • The introduction of stringent rules regarding the age of marriage (this, in turn, will include the alignment of age of majority in the marriage legislation to the Children’s Act).

It is worth noting that drastic changes have already been made in the country’s matrimonial regulations. This comes after the 2020 Civil Union Amendment Act, which was not only gazetted on 22 October 2020 but impressively came into effect immediately.

This change brings about a new set of laws, where marriage officers are no longer allowed to object to solemnising a civil union between same-sex partners. Furthermore, the Act also necessitates the minister of Home Affairs to guarantee a marriage officer is always available to formalise a civil union at each and every single Department of Home Affairs office.

The law was implemented following several high-profile incidents, where marriage officers declined to solemnise a same-sex marriage, as it went against their personal beliefs. With the South African government transforming freedom of choice into legislation, what are your thoughts on this forward movement in SA? Share your views in the comment section below.

Author: Quinton Boucher

Edited: Calvin Swemmer

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