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social sciences

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South Africa  
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During the apartheid era, the South African military routinely practiced aversion therapy on gay men, who were subjected to electric shocks while they viewed images of naked men.

In 1982, the Gay Association of South Africa (GASA), a largely white male group, was formed to combat laws and attitudes. Simon Nkoli was a member of GASA before leaving it to form the Saturday Group, the country's first black gay organization.

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In 1988, along with lesbian activist Beverly Palesa Ditsie, Nkoli founded the Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand (GLOW). GLOW represented a shift in queer organizing from segregated social groups to racially mixed groups with an anti-apartheid, pro-gay rights focus.

As happened in many gay communities, lesbians frequently felt marginalized in mixed groups and separated to form their own organizations, such as the GLOW Lesbian Forum and Lesbians in Love and Compromising Situations (LILACS). In 1990, Nkoli and Ditsie helped plan Johannesburg's first gay pride march.

Legal Reform

After the fall of apartheid, the legal status of gay and lesbian citizens quickly improved. In 1993, the interim constitution prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1994, a sweeping ruling by the Constitutional Court of South Africa struck down the sodomy law in the broadest possible terms.

In May 1996, with the adoption of the country's new constitution, South Africa became the first country to specifically protect glbtq people from discrimination. Section 9(3) of the constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other grounds.

From this constitutional fountain flowed a series of legal reforms. All laws that had discriminated against glbtq people, including disparate ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual acts, were formally repealed following another significant ruling by the nation's Constitutional Court in 1998.

In 1998, Parliament passed an employment act that prohibits employment discrimination, while in 2000, it passed a law that prohibits discrimination in public services and accommodations.

In yet another landmark case, the Constitutional Court ruled in December 2005 that the prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the equal rights provision of the constitution. The Court gave Parliament one year to pass a law providing for same-sex marriage.

In November 2006, Parliament voted 230-41 in favor of a bill that authorized same-sex civil marriage, as well as civil unions for unmarried opposite-sex and same-sex couples. South Africa, thus, became the fifth country to achieve marriage equality.

The lop-sided vote in favor of marriage equality may, however, be misleading. Many of the Members of Parliament from the ruling African National Congress who voted in favor of equality did so not out of a conviction that same-sex marriage was a step toward progress, but in order to prevent a constitutional crisis in the new nation.

Indeed, current South Africa President Jacob Zuma loudly opposed the new law. Moreover, the law allows civil servants, as well as clergy, to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

Passage of the marriage equality law did not end the debate about same-sex marriage, and anti-gay groups continue to lobby to overturn the law.

South Africa Today

Although South Africa in theory, and largely in practice, extends equal legal rights to its glbtq citizens, the South African queer community must contend with persistent cultural prejudices. One of the strongest biases that glbtq groups must combat is the commonly held belief that homosexuality is not a native African identity, but one of the corrupting influences of the West.

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