“We’ve decided to get married.”
“Oh really, have you?” My mother couldn’t hide her shock. “I think you should maybe wait a while before you do that.”
“Mum, I love him and I’m going to marry him.” ‘Him’ was my brother Henry and I was four when I made this declaration. Thankfully, modern society already had strict guidelines in place on who I could or could not marry. Cousin Simon was also out, as was any other direct blood relative. Home Affairs have an extensive and quite amusing list of who is allowed to marry whom in South Africa – just so you know, it is illegal to marry your “son’s daughter’s husband”, or your “father’s mother’s husband”, or your “son”. I wish I were joking. So, who gets to decide who marries whom? For the most part, society does. And whether your particular society is progressive or regressive will determine whether you can marry the person you have fallen in love with. Unfortunately not all societies get it right.
In many countries in the world, same-sex marriage is illegal. Fail. In many countries in the world, men are allowed to take more than one wife. But women are not allowed to take more than one husband. Fail. In many countries in the world, children are sold as brides. Major fail.
Historically, marriage was not a sacred tradition; it wasn’t until 1215 – as a result of the signing of the Magna Carta – that marriage became a ‘Christian’ endeavor. Prior to that, people married and divorced freely. In Ancient Rome, same-sex marriage was perfectly normal and accepted.
In the wake of Apartheid, South Africa became the guardian of one of the greatest Constitutions ever written. It is a Constitution where everyone is welcome; everyone is included regardless of race, religion or sexuality. In 2006, South Africa became the first country in Africa to legalise same-sex marriages.
And so you can imagine how shocked I was when I read a story last year of a couple who were in love, excited to be getting married and who went to visit a prospective wedding venue. As the wedding coordinator showed them around it became clear that they had found their venue and they declared that all important ‘yes’. For those of you who have been through the similar experience, the excitement and exhilaration of finding the right venue, you can imagine how heartbroken they were to receive an email a few weeks later saying that the venue was no longer available for their chosen date, or any other date for that matter, because the owners of the venue didn’t like the couple.
They didn’t like the couple because they were lesbians.
Who were these people to feel that they could deny these women the right to marry? Where did their entitlement come from to totally disregard the Constitution and allow only certain individuals, those whom they personally deemed appropriate, to avail of their business?
In another shocking story, a gay couple who were married in a Christian ceremony in 2012 was refused the right to stay in a guesthouse in Ceres because the guesthouse was not ‘gay friendly’. This case is currently under investigation and the couple is receiving support in their fight from the South African Human Rights Commission.
It’s time the citizens of South Africa caught up with the Constitution. It’s something to be proud of; it should be held aloft and fought for – even if it’s not your fight. Who should be allowed to marry is not subjective. It is something that collective society decides upon. Venues, guesthouses and suppliers that discriminate because of sexual orientation, race or religion should be boycotted. They don’t deserve your business.
To the owners of the venue and guesthouse mentioned above: if you feel hard done by, or that your religious views are somehow being threatened, change your business. The fact is that in this country, by law, businesses cannot discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation. You live in this society; therefore you have to abide by the laws. If you decide you don’t want to do that, then there are flights out of here daily. I hear Russia is lovely this time of year.
Everyone wants their wedding venue to be ‘exclusive’, but if ‘exclusive’ means bigoted, racist or ignorant, I’ll pass thanks. I’m grateful that society allowed me to marry my husband, and I am eternally grateful that I never had to fight for my right to do so. To those who are still fighting that fight, know that for every person standing in your way, there are ten standing in your corner.
By Francesca Bourke