Jou belange: In gesprek met prof. Pierre de Vos

Na die verskyning van die artikel “Zuma’s new God squad wants liberal laws to go” het ons heelwat reaksie gehoor/gelees vanaf publieke forums, gesprekke asook hier op VuurKairos. Ons het gaan kers opgesteek by Prof. Pierre de Vos, en aan hom ‘n paar vrae gestel.

Prof Pierre de Vos holds the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance at the University of Cape Town. He blogs at CONSTITUTIONALLY SPEAKING. It deals with social and political aspects of South African society – mostly from a constitutional perspective.

Same-sex marriage became legal in South Africa on 30 November 2006 when the Civil Unions Bill was enacted after having been passed by the South African Parliament. How significant is/was the decision handed down by the Constitutional Court to legalise gay marriage, especially if you take into account that South Africa became the fifth coutry, the first in Africa, and the second outside Europe, to legalize same-sex marriage?

The vast majority of the South African population are socially deeply conservative and to some degree it was therefore surprising that our first democratic Constitution contained an explicit prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination. Even more surprising for non-South Africans was the extremely progressive way in which our Constitutional Court interpreted this provision. The Court stated even in the very first case on this topic that the right to equality includes a right to be different from everyone else and rejected the notion that one could distinguish between "normal heterosexuality" and "abnormal homosexuality". Both are equally normal, the Court said. I like this idea because it also means there is not one kind of homosexuality that is more deserving of respect and protection than another. Whether one is camp or butch, religious or not, male or female, black or white, poor or rich, sexually adventurous or not, one is equally deserving of respect. This first judgment was indeed a milestone.

The marriage judgment was therefore merely the culmination of a long legal (and political) struggle with many milestones reached along the line and from a legal perspective did not change the law in a significant manner as many of the rights afforded to heterosexual married couples had by then already been extended to same-sex couples in long term committed relationships. The effect of the same-sex marriage judgment was perhaps more import in a symbolic way as the Court stated that entering into a marriage did not only bestow legal rights on individuals, but also bestowed on such relationships a certain status. For gay men and lesbians finally to be able to enter into marriage thus bestowed on our relationships a symbolic legitimacy and suggested that gays and lesbians were truly full and equal citizens of our country – both in terms of the law and in terms of the status and respect accorded to us. The law and the state now recognise that same-sex relationships is sometimes about more than sex. It is also about love and trust and caring and support.

Mail&Guardian het onlangs berig dat daar tans vanuit sekere godsdienstige kringe geluide gemaak word dat daar opnuut ’n teenkanting/herbesinning gaan wees oor sogenaamde “liberale wetgewing”. Hou dit ’n wesentlike gevaar vir ons grondwet en ons regte in, of is dit leë blikke wat baie geraas maak? (Hier verwys ons ook spesifiek na gay-huwelikke)

Die gelyke regte wat gays en lesbiërs deur die howe en wetgewing bekom het, kan nie sommer net goedsmoeds weggeneem word nie. Die grondwet sal eers verander moet word en daarvoor sal twee derdes van die Parlement daarvoor moet stem. Alhoewel dit nie onmoontlik is dat die grondwet verander word nie, sal dit na my mening nie sommer gebeur nie aangesien dit ‘n geweldige simboliese effek sal hê as die regte van sommige Suid-Afrikaners van hulle af weggeneem word. Binne die regerende party is daar ook baie mense wat baie sterk voorstanders van die regte van gay mans en lesbiërs is of selfs gay is en dit is onwaarskynlik (maar natuurlik nooit onmoontlik nie) dat die ANC dus met die regte sal peuter.

Do you think that a future Concourt could reverse the ruling of the current Concourt regarding gay marriages?

This does not seem likely as the Court is bound by its previous precedent which they will only overturn in the most extreme cases. Although it is possible that a differently constituted Constitutional Court could revisit its decisions and overturn previous decisions, this will not happen in the near future. But to ensure that this never happens it is important that individuals of all races and cultures speak out for their rights and demonstrate that we will not quietly accept a u-turn on the issue. The more noise one makes and the more one is prepared to stand up for one’s rights, the better. I believe as long as South Africans become involved and defend their rights, there is not much scope for going back. But there is no reason for complacency either.

Is there enough ownership on the ground of our constitutional values and how should we promote it?

I think in South Africa we all believe in rights, but often we only believe in our own rights and not in the rights of others. The best way to safeguard rights and to promote the values of equality, freedom and dignity safeguarded by the Constitution, is to show a concern for the rights of ALL people and to defend those rights when necessary. If we are white and we see a black person being discriminated against, we should speak out. When a poor person goes hungry, we should speak out and we should do something about it. When a foreigner is assaulted we should take action to stop such abuse. When women are discriminated against, we should not sit quietly by. During the struggle there was a phrase: "An injury to one, is an injury to all." I believe members of the gay and lesbian community (and members of the wider community too, of course) must internalise this phrase because we must NEVER forget that today someone else might be affected, but who says it will not be us tomorrow?

Watter rol dink jy behoort progressiewe gelowiges in hierdie proses te speel?

Ek weet nou nie of ek die regte persoon is om vir gelowiges raad te gee nie, maar ek sou tog wou se dat dit gevaarlik is om onsself af te sluit van wat om ons aangaan. As mens gelowig is, sou dit seker maklik wees om mens se geloof iets baie persoonlik te maak en om jou af te sluit van die wêreld om jou en die ongeregtigheid wat mens om jou sien. Maar ek wonder of dit nie baie kortsigtig is nie. Persoonlik dink ek ons het ‘n etiese verantwoordelikheid om erns te maak met die wêreld om ons en indien ons gemaklike middelklas lewens ly, om nie te vergeet van die onreg, die armoede, die honger om ons nie. Dit gaan nie net oor die regte van die een of ander groep met wie ons onsself vereenselwig nie – nie net oor gays en lesbiërs nie – maar oor die regte van almal wat in Suid-Afrika bly.

pierre de vos


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