South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday passed a bill that prevents marriage officers from refusing to conduct same-sex marriages.
According to the Civil Union Amendment Bill, the Home Affairs Minister must ensure a marriage officer is available to solemnise a civil union at every office.
Earlier, the Centre for Human Rights welcomed the passing of the bill by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
Spokesperson Thiruna Naidoo said the bill repealed Section 6 of the Civil Union Act 17 of 2006 (CUA), which provided that a marriage officer may, in writing, inform the Minister of Home Affairs that he or she objects to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex on the ground of conscience, religion, and belief.
Naidoo added that this provision had long been a barrier to the legal recognition of same-sex couples by marriage officers in the Department of Home Affairs. Said Naidoo:
Under the Civil Union Amendment Bill, a transitional period of 24 months is given [for] the Department of Home Affairs to train those officials that had previously been granted an exemption by the minister.
During this transitional period, a marriage officer, other than those granted exemption, must be available to solemnise a civil union at every Department of Home Affairs office to ensure that same-sex couples are no longer turned away.
Naidoo further said the bill was a positive step toward eliminating existing differentiation between marriages and civil union partnerships, reducing discrimination against same-sex relationships and achieving equality for same-sex couples in South Africa.
The development comes as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis said in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws.