Deputy Speaker, the ACDP is aware that a significant number of South Africans are concerned that the Civil Union Amendment Bill is part of a broader agenda that intends placing churches and religious institutions under pressure, to conduct civil unions in their places of worship.

More and more court cases are being used to harass religious bodies on this issue and there is a huge suspicion that section 5 which presently protects marriage officers of religious organisations will be targeted next. Legislation should not be used to override people’s religious beliefs or consciences.

Our Constitution protects freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and the Members of Parliament have a duty to see that people are not compelled to act against their conscience in the cost of their work, and that they are not discriminated against on these grounds. In the words of Family Action SA: “No one should be forced to accept a moral wrong, participate in it or serve as an accomplice.”

In the Constitutional court case of Christian Education SA versus Minister of Education, Justice Sachs confirmed that:

The right to freedom of religion goes beyond protecting the inviolability of the individual conscience. For many believers, their relationship with God is central to all their activities.

This obviously includes their work activities. Therefore, state marriage officers do not leave their scriptural convictions at home when they go to work in the mornings, but they take it with them into their workplace, where it informs them the way in which they should do their work.

Section 15 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, including the right to live out one’s beliefs to everyone, including employees of the state. The conscience objection in clause 6 of the Civil Union Act which this Bill seeks to abolish is not a legal blunder or a relic of a discriminatory past.

This clause was specifically inserted by this Parliament at the time when the Civil Union Act which legalises same sex marriages in the first place, was adopted, with the specific view of protecting the fundamental right to religious freedom of those state marriage officers who find themselves, because of their religious beliefs, unable to solemnise a same sex marriage.

This was in keeping with the statement by Justice Sachs again in Minister of Home Affairs versus Fourie, that:

The principle of reasonable accommodation could be applied by the state to ensure that civil marriage officers who has sincere religious objections to officiating same sex marriages would not themselves be obliged to do so if it resulted in the violation of their conscience.

The ACDP will therefore not support this Bill that would force people to undermine their consciences.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE: Civil Union Amendment Bill
6 December 2018