When you can expect South Africa’s new marriage laws to be introduced

 ·5 May 2021

The Department of Home Affairs has published its green paper on marriages for public comment, with the goal of submitting an official bill by parliament by 2024.

The green paper aims to work towards the development of a new single marriage bill and will align the country’s marriage regime with the constitutional principle of equality.

It includes 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 marriage legislation that regulates marriages in South Africa is not informed by an overarching policy based on the above constitutional provisions. The legislation is a combination of legacy legislation, colonial and apartheid-era, and new law that was introduced post-1994 to redress historical injustices.

“Instead of creating a harmonised system of marriage in South Africa, the state has sought to give recognition to different marriage rituals by passing a range of different marriage laws,” the department said in the paper’s explanatory preface.

The department added that the purpose of the marriage policy is to establish a policy foundation for regulating the marriages of all persons that reside in South Africa.

The envisaged marriage statute will enable South Africans and residents of all sexual orientations, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages that will accord with the principles of equality, non-discrimination, human dignity and unity in diversity, as encapsulated in the Constitution, it said.

In a roadmap provided alongside the bill, the department said that a formal bill is expected to be ready for parliamentary approval by 2024. The roadmap for the bill is as follows:

  • Gazetting the draft marriage policy for public comments by 30 April 2021;
  • Submitting the marriage policy to Cabinet for approval by 31 March 2022;
  • Submitting the Marriage Bill to Cabinet for approval by 31 March 2023;
  • Submitting the Marriage Bill to Parliament for approval by 31 March 2024.

“This is the beginning of a crucial public discourse that will re-define the concept of marriage in South Africa.

“The process will unearth issues that may make some of us uncomfortable, but will encourage dialogue within the South African and international communities.”

Some of the key changes that are expected be introduced in the new bill include:

  • The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages;
  • The introduction of strict rules around the age of marriage (including the alignment of age of majority in the marriage legislation to the Children’s Act);
  • It will align the marriage, matrimonial property and divorce legislation to address matrimonial 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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