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South Africa’s Marriage Law Revolution: Inclusivity and Equality on the Horizon

Published by
WIlliam Dube
  1. The South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) plans to submit an updated Marriage Bill to Cabinet, aiming for parliamentary approval by 2024, as outlined in its 2023/24 annual performance plan.
  2. The new bill seeks to consolidate existing marriage legislation and address gaps, particularly regarding the regulation of religious and customary marriages, to ensure a more inclusive legal framework for people of diverse sexual orientations, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
  3. Key proposed changes in the bill include stricter age of marriage rules, alignment of marital property and divorce legislation, and provisions for the solemnization and registration of marriages involving foreign nationals and non-citizens.

The South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has announced plans to submit an updated Marriage Bill to Cabinet this year, with the aim of obtaining approval for tabling the proposed laws in Parliament by 2024. The DHA has detailed these plans in its latest annual performance plan for the 2023/24 financial year, which provides an overview of the department’s objectives and initiatives for the coming year.

Throughout the next year, the draft laws are expected to be approved for submission to the Minister by the end of June 2023. Subsequently, various clusters and committees will provide recommendations by the year’s end. The department hopes to secure the necessary Cabinet approval by March 2024 to present the draft bill to Parliament.

The draft laws seek to address significant issues with South Africa’s current marriage laws. Despite the changes made to marriage legislation in the country post-1994, the DHA has identified serious gaps that require attention. For instance, the existing legislation fails to regulate certain religious marriages, such as Hindu, Muslim, and other customary marriages practiced in African or royal families.

In response to these concerns, the DHA initiated a process in 2021 to develop a comprehensive “umbrella” marriage policy, which aims to introduce a single, unified piece of legislation. At present, marriages in South Africa are regulated through the Marriage Act (for monogamous opposite-sex couples), the Recognition of Customary Marriages (for polygamous opposite-sex couples), and the Civil Union Act (for monogamous same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships).

According to the DHA, “The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientations, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages that will accord with the doctrine of equality, non-discrimination and human dignity as encapsulated in the Constitution.” In essence, the new bill aims to consolidate all previous legislation under one umbrella while addressing any remaining gaps in the existing laws.

The DHA has outlined the legislative and parliamentary processes necessary for the bill’s enactment, which will be informed by the development of relevant policy and implemented over the medium term. By the 2024/25 financial year, the DHA plans to table the Marriage Bill in Parliament, where it will be scrutinized by both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.

Discussions surrounding the new bill have been ongoing since the DHA began public consultations on its Green Paper on Marriages in South Africa. Among the most significant changes proposed under the Green Paper are:

  1. The new Marriage Act will allow South Africans of diverse sexual orientations, religious, and cultural backgrounds to enter into legal marriages;
  2. The introduction of stringent rules regarding the age of marriage (including aligning the age of majority in marriage legislation with the Children’s Act);
  3. Aligning marriage, marital property, and divorce legislation to address marital property and intestate succession concerns in the event of marriage dissolution;
  4. Ensuring equitable treatment and respect for religious and customary beliefs, in accordance with Section 15 of the Constitution;
  5. Addressing the solemnization and registration of marriages involving foreign nationals;
  6. Addressing the solemnization and registration of customary marriages involving non-citizens, particularly those from cross-border communities or neighboring countries.

As the DHA moves forward with the proposed changes to South Africa’s marriage laws, it is clear that the nation is taking significant steps towards a more inclusive and equitable legal framework for all citizens.

WIlliam Dube

William Dube is a finance and economic news expert with over 10 years of experience in economic anaylsis, financial product assessment and market analysis. With a numerous certificates from prestigious universities including but not limited to Yale University and the University of Pennyslivenia. William specializes in providing insightful news developments in South Africa and commentary on investment strategies, risk management, and global economic trends. You can contact him on william@rateweb.co.za

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Published by
WIlliam Dube

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