South Africa: Gay is OK

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 8:01 PM EST

Yesterday South Africa became the fifth country to permit gay marriage, joining the liberal likes of Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and socialist-ruled Spain. The South African Parliament amended the country's marriage laws yesterday in response to a December 2005 Supreme Court ruling that found that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated of the country's liberal constitution.

Conservatives in South Africa didn't like the court ruling any more than conservatives in this country liked Massachusetts' trail-blazing decision. The conservative African Christian Democratic Party interpreted the December ruling to require only that the legislature debate the issue. Errol Naidoo, a spokesman for His People Christian Church, played the Bush of the situation, calling the ruling a weapon of mass destruction against heterosexual marriage. He accused the high court of "surrender[ing] the future of this nation to the unreasonable demands of a sexually confused minority."

But unlike African-American groups in this country, who prickle at the suggestion that discrimination against gays and lesbians is comparable to racial discrimination, the African National Congress embraced the issue. The majority party pushed hard to allow marriage, rather than just domestic partnership despite the resistance of some of its members. Vytjie Mentor, the ANC's parliamentary caucus chairman, said ''How do you give someone permission to discriminate in the name of the ANC?'' Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the ACDP, saw it differently. He called Tuesday the "saddest day in our 12 years of democracy" and warned that South Africa "was provoking God's anger."

Some prominent members of the ANC until recently denied the existence of the AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent, essentially endorsing condomless sex and marital infidelity. But in the ANC's defense, the new law stands in stark contrast to laws in other African nations that punish consensual homosexual sex more harshly than they do rape. It's also far more progressive than U.S. laws: Twenty-two states now prohibit gay marriage with both a statute and a constitutional amendment.