Home Affairs 'sorry' for gay marriage gaffe

31 August 2011 - 02:15 By ADRIENNE CARLISLE
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The Eastern Cape provincial manager of the Department of Home Affairs, Sonto Lusu, has apologised personally to a gay couple after the department's Port Elizabeth office turned down their request to be married.

Lusu phoned Mark Cronje and Donovan Wynne and not only apologised but also offered to ensure immediately that they got married at Home Affairs.

But Cronje said yesterday said they were so distressed by their ordeal that they had decided to pay for a private marriage rather than use the free Home Affairs service.

"Ms Lusu was most gracious in her apology, for which we are grateful, but our joy was so tainted by what we went through that we have decided on a private ceremony," said Cronje.

"We don't want to go near that office again so we will simply pay the costs and be done."

The Port Elizabeth Home Affairs office gave Wynne and Cronje the cold shoulder when they went to inquire about their marriage. Lusu said yesterday that it should "never be allowed to happen again".

The couple, who decided to celebrate their love by tying the knot, were treated icily. Later, after further inquiries, they were told that the office did not have a marriage officer prepared to conduct same-sex marriages.

In terms of the Civil Union Act, marriage officers cannot be compelled to solemnise a same-sex civil union if they object on the grounds of "conscience or religion".

Lusu said that, while individual marriage officers may decline to marry a same-sex couple, every Home Affairs office in the country was obliged to find a way to ensure that no same-sex couples seeking to be married should ever be turned away.

"We are investigating this issue. Home Affairs should never turn anyone away. If an office finds itself in a situation where none of their staff is prepared to marry a couple, then they must contact the provincial office and a plan will be made," Lusu said.

The Commission for Gender Equality emphasised yesterday that every couple - regardless of sexual orientation - deserved the right to marry.

Commission spokesman Javu Baloyi said that the marriage of Wynne and Cronje should have been a "joyful occasion".

He said that, despite the "loophole" created by the Civil Union Act, it was incumbent on Home Affairs to ensure a willing marriage officer was sourced. Denying a couple the chance of a civil union infringed on their rights.

Cronje said that, while he and Wynne had decided to get married privately, he was pleased that no other couples would have to suffer similar treatment.

"The reaction from everyone, including Home Affairs, has been very affirming."

In 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to allow legal marriages between same-sex couples.

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