South African judge lectures on same-sex marriage

The court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was a violation of the South African constitution.

By Brittany Birberick

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Discussions of same-sex marriage in South Africa recalled the country’s history of segregation, said former South African Supreme Court Justice Albie Sachs, who wrote a 2005 opinion striking down a ban on same-sex marriage in the country.

Wednesday’s talk was the last of a five-part series given by Sachs, who completed teaching a five-week class in the human rights department this week.

The case centered on if “marriage” or “civil union” is applicable for same-sex couples, Sachs said. That debate raised issues reminiscent of apartheid segregation, asking if “separate but equal” was really equal. The court decided it wasn’t.

While it would have been easy to say the court and those in favor of same-sex marriage were enlightened and progressive while those opposed to same-sex marriage were bigots, Sachs stressed that the issue is more complicated than that. He discussed the importance of taking all beliefs, especially religious ones, into consideration.

“I’m a judge up there, and I represent the nation,” Sachs said.

The court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was a violation of the South African constitution, which includes a clause that bans any discrimination based on sexual orientation. Sachs helped write the constitution, which was adopted 1996, and had advocated that the clause be included.

Sachs avoided direct answers to questions on how the United States Supreme Court should rule on same-sex marriage. “I wouldn’t want an American judge to come to South Africa and tell us how things should be,” Sachs said.

Sachs said the ruling is being applied in South Africa without much trouble. “It’s being accepted in society. It’s taking the marriage officers a little longer to get organized, but it’s happening,” Sachs said.