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South Africa is changing its marriage laws – but key issues are still up for discussion

It is an incontestable fact that this country needs a new marriage policy, says home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Presenting his departmental budget speech this week, the minister said that the new policy will be based on three of the pillars of the country’s constitution – equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.

The minister said that to get married in South Africa, you are required to choose between three acts of Parliament:

  • The Marriage Act of 1961
  • Recognition of Customary Marriage Act of 1998
  • Civil Union Act of 2006

The minister said that these three acts have many gaps, omissions and weaknesses in that they do not cater or give recognition to Muslim marriages, Hindu marriages and marriages conducted according to Jewish rites;

He added that the current legislation fails to recognise many traditional marriages taking place in many royal families, and do not effectively prevent minor children from getting married.

To address these and other issues, Motsoaledi said that his department has put forward proposals in the form of a Green Paper to enable society to start a national dialogue.

Some of the key changes proposed in the new policy include:

  • The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages;
  • The introduction of strict rules around the age of marriage (including the alignment of age of majority in the marriage legislation to the Children’s Act);
  • It will align the marriage, matrimonial property and divorce legislation to address matrimonial property and intestate succession matters in the event of the marriage dissolution;
  • It will allow for equitable treatment and respect for religious and customary beliefs in line with Section 15 of the Constitution.
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of marriages that involve foreign nationals;
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of customary marriages that involve non-citizens especially cross-border communities or citizens of our neighbouring countries.

Still just a consultation 

In his budget speech, Motsoaledi reiterated that the green paper was not official legislation in any way and was only the start of the consultation process.

He drew specific attention to the issue of polyandry, which allows a woman to take more than more spouse, which gained traction in the media this week after some political parties denounced the proposal.

“I am pleading that the national dialogue on this Green Paper be conducted responsibly and in the true spirit of nation-building.

“Please let us lower the excitement and deal with the very important issues mentioned by our people who experience serious hardships in their everyday existence in their endeavor to build viable families – which every nation on earth strives for – for there is no nation without families.

“We are eagerly waiting for your written and constructive inputs by the deadline of 30 June by this year.”


Read: Government warned over more alcohol restrictions in South Africa


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