Government begins talks on new marriage laws for South Africa

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has begun public consultations on its Green Paper on Marriages in South Africa.

The department said the consultations, which will take place at workshops throughout the country, follow the submission of public comments earlier this year.

“The Green Paper on Marriages in South Africa was approved by Cabinet in April 2021 for public consultation and gazetted for public comments on 4 May 2021 with public comments invited until 30 June 2021,” it said.

“Inputs received during consultations will be consolidated into a White Paper which will articulate government’s position on the regulation of marriages in South Africa.”

What to expect

The Green Paper aims to develop a new Single Marriage Bill and will align the country’s marriage regime with the constitutional principle of equality.

The paper makes proposals on unions of people from all sexual orientations, religious and cultural persuasions. It also proposes the complete removal of child marriages in our future marriage regime, the department said.

The legislation that currently regulates marriages in South Africa has been developed without an overarching policy based on constitutional values and an understanding of modern social dynamics.

This has led to the recognition of different marriage rituals without any harmonisation, it said.

“Despite all the changes that have been made in the marriage legislation post-1994, there are still serious gaps in the current legislation. For instance, the current legislation does not regulate some religious marriages such as the Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages that are practised in some African or royal families.

“Given the diversity of the South Africa population, it is virtually impossible to pass legislation governing every single religious or cultural marriage practice. 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 critical changes that have been mooted in the green paper include:

  • The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientations, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages;
  • The introduction of strict rules around the age of marriage (including the alignment of the age of majority in the marriage legislation to the Children’s Act);
  • It will align the marriage, marital property and divorce legislation to address marital property and intestate succession matters in the event of the marriage dissolution;
  • It will allow for equitable treatment and respect for religious and customary beliefs in line with Section 15 of the Constitution.
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of marriages that involve foreign nationals;
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of customary marriages that involve non-citizens, especially cross-border communities or citizens of our neighbouring countries.

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Government begins talks on new marriage laws for South Africa