The South African National Assembly voted 230-41 on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Tuesday, making it the first country in Africa to do so. Before the bill becomes a law, it must be approved by the National Council of Provinces and signed into effect by President Thabo Mbeki, according to the New York Times. Both the National Council of Provinces and President Mbeki are expected to approve the bill.
Last December, the highest court in South Africa found that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitutions guarantee of equal rights and gave lawmakers until December 1, 2006 to change the law regulating same-sex partnerships. The approved bill allows same-sex couples to register marriages or civil partnerships, but allows civil officers the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples.
“When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust, painful past by declaring that never again shall a South African be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed, culture and sex,” Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqukala, Home Affairs Minister, said in support of the bill, according to the AP. However, there has also been a great deal of criticism of the new law. Homosexuality is still illegal in many African countries, including Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, and Kenya, reports the AP. Many church and traditionalist leaders in South Africa and other African countries have come out against the new measure and are proposing constitutional amendments to ban same-sex unions.