South Africa to overhaul marriage laws

The Department of Home Affairs is working on a complete overhaul of the current marriage policy for South Africa.

Speaking at an event at Constitutional Hill on Friday (30 August), minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said that his department is scheduled to submit the proposed policy changes to cabinet in March 2021.

“We are starting a process to modernise our marriages laws to ensure that they adhere to the principles of the constitution, which enjoins us to ensure that the state does not unfairly discriminate against any citizen,” he said.

“Currently, we have three laws which govern marriages in the country.”

These include:

  • The Marriage Act 25 of 1961 for monogamous marriages between opposite-sex couples;
  • The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 for polygamous marriages between opposite-sex couples;
  • The Civil Unions Act 17 of 2006 regulating monogamous partnerships for both same- and opposite-sex couples.

All of these acts still discriminate against some citizens, Motsoaledi said.

Part of the concerns around discrimination include:

  • In 1994 South Africa inherited a marriage regime that was based on the Calvinist Christian tradition which stemmed from the era where the state and the church were mutually reinforcing, if not synonymous;
  • We also inherited the marriage regimes of the former homelands states such as Transkei, Venda, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa and Qwaqwa;
  • There are strong references in some of the laws governing marriage that harken to the religious marriage rituals practised in Christian marriages.

Motsoaledi added that all of these acts still discriminate against persons because current legislation does not cater for some religious marriages such as the Hindu and the Muslim and certain customary marriages among African communities.

In their place a new, single marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages that will accord with the constitutional principle of equality, he said.

Read: Here’s how old the average South African is when they get married – and when they get divorced

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South Africa to overhaul marriage laws