LGBT organisations have demanded that Parliament ensures that gays and lesbians are treated respectfully during deliberations on the Civil Union Bill.
In a letter sent to the Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs on Saturday, the Joint Working Group (JWG) slated the recent public hearings on the bill for not setting “the parameters for public discussions, within the context of constitutional values”.
Patrick Chauke, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, is singled out. In the letter the JWG questions the ability of Chauke – who is tasked to facilitate a public participation process on the Bill – to take a non-partisan approach.
The JWG, conclude by asking that “parliament takes all necessary steps to ensure that our constitutional values are not compromised during the deliberations on the Civil Union Bill, and that a climate is created for equal and respectful participation by lesbian and gay individuals and organizations.”
Parliament will, over the next two days, be hearing submissions on the Civil Union Bill. It will then deliberate over the submissions and hearings made over the last two weeks around the country. According to Chauke, more than a thousand written submissions had been sent to the committee. All public submissions have also been videotaped.
Cape Town’s LGBT group, Triangle Project, held a small demonstration against the bill outside Parliament this morning. During today’s submissions the South African Human Rights Commission told Parliament that the Civil Union Bill was probably unconstitutional. It also said that the bill may lead to discrimination against gay people.
The JWG is a national network of community organisations working primarily with gay and lesbian people or issues. A JWG march to protest against the Civil Union Bill – on the basis that it does not provide for “true” same-sex marriage – as demanded by the Constitutional Court – will take place tomorrow in Pretoria. (Click here for more information.)
The JWG letter is published below.
9 October 2006
Madam Speaker, Ms Baleka Mbete (per fax)
The Honourable Deputy Minster of Home Affairs, Mr. Malusi Gigaba (email)
cc. Chair of Committees, Mr Geoffrey Doidge (email)
LETTER FROM THE JOINT WORKING GROUP
As the Joint Working Group, a national network of seventeen organizations working in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) sector, we wish to express our serious concern about the manner and process by which the public hearings on the Civil Union Bill were conducted.
We hereby request your intervention so as to ensure that the public deliberations on the Civil Union Bill are in keeping with Constitutional principles, and that equal opportunity is afforded to lesbian and gay voices in the process. It is important to understand that in many communities, LGBT people are victimised and discriminated against, and that, as a result, it is critical to ensure that any public forum for participation is designed in such a way that LGBT voices are not marginalised.
The concerns we wish to raise, based on our presence at the hearings held in Soweto, Polokwane, Welkom, Nelspriut, Rustenberg, New Hanover, Umtata and Upington, are as follows:
- At the outset of the hearings, no parameters for the discussions were set. It was critical that the Chair of the discussions outline the purpose of the hearings and that submissions are to be made within the broader principles of the Constitution. The lack of parameters allowed numerous instances of hate speech, against lesbian and gay people, to be freely expressed. In these cases, no attempts were made by the Chair to curtail such speech and indicate that such speech was contrary to the Constitution.
- A climate of tolerance and respect was not created at the hearings, such that lesbian and gay individuals could safely and freely voice their views. To the contrary, allowing discriminatory comments from the floor resulted in lesbian and gay local community members being too fearful to express themselves at the hearings.
- The last minute rescheduling of the venue and/or times of the hearing in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. This leads us to believe that there were interests to influence which constituencies were present at the hearings.
In addition, speaking on SABC 1’s “Asikhulume” on Sunday, October 1 Mr. Patrick Chauke (Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs) expressed his concern about the invisibility of different LGBT organizations in the public hearings. This statement shows Mr. Chauke’s lack of understanding of the geographical placement of LGBT organisations around South Africa, as well as the dynamics and dangers for LGBT individuals taking part in public hearings. In taking the public hearings to remote areas such as villages and rural areas, where there are no gay and lesbian organisations in operation, he disadvantaged the potential for LGBT organisations and individuals to raise their concerns with the Bill. There are gay and lesbian people living in these areas, but they are understandably not publicly open about their sexual orientation; for them to come and speak at these hearings, in a climate of intolerance and without support, could pose a physical danger.
Parliament has the responsibility to conduct public hearings in a manner that embodies the principles of our Constitution and not to wittingly create a platform for victimization of citizens. In addition, parliament has a mandate to set the parameters for public discussions, within the context of constitutional values. This has not been the case in the hearings thus far.
Instead, the very tenants of equality and freedom, in relation to sexual orientation, were themselves up for debate at some of the hearings.
Parliament has a primary role to play in the deepening of equality, as stated by Justice Sachs:
“It needs to be remembered that not only the courts are responsible for vindicating the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The legislature is in the frontline in this respect. One of its principal functions is to ensure that the values of the Constitution as set out in the Preamble and section 1 permeate every area of the law. Provided that the basic principles of equality as enshrined in the Constitution are not trimmed in the process, the greater the degree of public acceptance for same-sex unions, the more will the achievement of equality be promoted.”
The responsibility of parliament in this regard has not been upheld. We are of the belief that the public hearing process has, rather than strengthening the principles of equality and unity in diversity, fuelled the further victimisation of sexual minorities.
Based on the manner in which the public hearing process has been conducted, we question the ability of the Chair of the Committee who is tasked to facilitate a public participation process on the Bill, to take a non-partisan approach on the matter at hand.
If anything, the level of intolerance toward the rights of lesbian and gay people, as reflected in the hearings, should further strengthen the Committee’s resolve to ensure:
- That the principles of equality guide its conduct
- That lesbian and gay equality is not further undermined by the parliamentary process
- That the marginalization of lesbian and gay voices will not be tolerated by the legislature
We hereby request that parliament takes all necessary steps to ensure that our constitutional values are not compromised during the deliberations on the Civil Union Bill, and that a climate is created for equal and respectful participation by lesbian and gay individu