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South Africa parliament set to OK civil unions bill

[JURIST] South African lawmakers are expected to pass a civil unions bill next week after a parliamentary committee Thursday approved language without specific reference to heterosexual or same-sex couples that recognizes the "voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union." A party-line vote on the controversial measure [JURIST report] is anticipated Tuesday. Last year, South Africa's Constitutional Court [official website] gave the government until December 1 to draft new legislation after it found the nation's 1961 Marriage Act [1997 extension text, PDF] violated the South African Constitution [text] by discriminating against same sex couples.

Gay rights groups welcomed the new bill and use of the term "marriage," but expressed disappointment with an opt-out clause, which allows officiants to refuse to perform a same-sex ceremony if it conflicts with his or her "conscience, religion and belief." Christian groups voiced their opposition and the Democratic Alliance party expressed regret that the measure had been rushed through committee without adequate time for debate. This legislation makes South Africa [JURIST news archive] the first African country to recognize same-sex unions. Homosexuality is still outlawed in many African countries, including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ghana. Canada, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands are the only nations that currently recognize full same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.

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