South African churches urge referendum on gay marriage proposal


South Africa’s leading churches urged President Thabo Mbeki on Saturday to call a referendum on gay marriages, saying a recent court ruling in favour of the unions ignored overwhelming public opposition.

On November 30 the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the current definition of marriage, excluding gays and lesbians, was unconstitutional. Gay activists cheered the decision as another step in attaining equal rights, but several Christian groups denounced it and criticised the court for going against public opinion.

The newly formed South African Christian Leadership Assembly (Sacla), said in a statement it believed in reaching out “in love and acceptance of homosexuals” but that their marriages were contrary to scripture. “The decision to legalise same-sex marriage cannot be left to the courts, as all South Africans, both now and in the future, will be affected by this decision,” the group said in a statement on behalf of 30 of South Africa’s biggest churches. “Therefore, before any such legislation is contemplated, a referendum should be held and we call for such. “As a society, we cannot afford to adopt laws that are also in conflict with God’s law as encapsulated in the Bible and in the writings of all major religions.”

The issue of gay nuptials has elicited fierce debate in largely Christian South Africa, with polls showing most people are against it. Bishop Lunga ka Siboto, one of Sacla’s leaders, said the president’s office had responded. It had given no sign that the demand would be met, but had agreed to a meeting at a later date. The president’s office could not be reached for comment.

Legal experts expect the Constitutional Court, the highest in the land, to uphold the Supreme Court decision given past rulings in favour of gays and lesbians. It will then be up to parliament to enact legalisation to allow same-sex marriages.

South Africa adopted one of the world’s most gay-friendly constitutions in 1996, two years after its first democratic elections. Gays and lesbians have also won a number of legal rounds since then, including the right to adopt children and inherit from a partner’s will. Analysts see marriages for gay and lesbians as the next move to granting equal rights enshrined in the constitution.

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