South Africa speeds up gay union debate

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South Africa has sped up its law set to legalise same sex unions by removing talk of the rights of unmarried couples until a later date.

The Parliament has been ordered to introduce a law by December 1 2006 but has found a plethora of views with religious groups seeking exemptions and gay groups desperate not to be left with an unequal system.

One barrier was a debate over the status of unmarried couples, both gay and straight, but this has now been removed from the bill with plans to debate it later. The Home Affairs portfolio committee now hopes it can quickly be approved by Parliament before next month.

However, gay campaigners are unhappy that the law could see a system of civil unions to appeal to the religious lobby.

Gay activists feel this would take away equal marriage rights.

In a letter to the South African Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile, Human Rights Watch’s Scott Long said the country should stand up for equality, he wrote, “Creating a special separate status for lesbian and gay couples sends a clear message that they are second-class citizens. It violates South Africa’s constitution, and it flouts international human rights.”

The high court of South Africa ruled last year that same-sex marriages should enjoy the same legal status as those between men and women, and has given the parliament until December to introduce legislation.