The Department of Home Affairs has clarified the status of religious leaders and same-sex marriage.

According to the government’s BuaNews website, the department has said that religious leaders are not obliged to solemnise same-sex marriages.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been receiving a number of letters from church ministers indicating that they did not wish to solemnise same-sex marriages.

Spokesperson for Ms Mapisa-Nqakula, Cleo Mosana said it appeared as though some religious leaders did not understand the Act.

“It’s not necessary for ministers of religion to inform the Minister of Home Affairs of their objections to the terms of the Civil Union Act,” Ms Mosana said.

The Act, she added, allowed religious leaders to “opt in”. It did not require them to “opt out.”

Religious leaders who are prepared to solemnise same-sex marriages could apply to the Minister and they would be granted a licence to perform such marriages.

These religious leaders would then practice as designated marriage officers.

However, if religious leaders were not prepared to solemnise same-sex marriages – it was not necessary for them to send letters to the minister informing her of their decision.

Currently, the department has about 600 marriage officers, who are also civil servants countrywide. They are available to solemnise same-sex marriages for couples whose churches may have objected to marry them.

However, marriage officers whose religion also do not allow them to participate in the solemnisation of such marriages must apply to Minister Mapisa-Nqakula and explain their stance.

The Minister would then study the reasons for their objection and use her own discretion to approve or turn down the applications.

The Civil Union Bill was signed into law three weeks ago by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. It came into effect on December 1 2006 and recognises same-sex marriages.

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