Gay couple wins S. Africa ruling
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- South Africa's Constitutional Court has ruled the country's marriage laws unfairly discriminate against same-sex unions.
In the 9-1 ruling issued Thursday, the court -- the country's highest -- referred the issue to South Africa's parliament, giving lawmakers one year to amend the country's marriage act.
Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys of Pretoria were plaintiffs in the first of two cases on the issue, which were merged.
Fourie and Bonthuys claimed "the law excludes them from publicly celebrating their love and commitment to each other in marriage," said a court statement.
"They contend that the exclusion comes from the common law definition, which states that marriage in South Africa is a union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion, while it lasts, of all others."
The second case before the court referred to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project's challenge to the country's marriage act.
The challenged section says marriage officers must ask of the parties whether they take their partner as their lawful wife or husband. That reference, the Equality Project contends, is unconstitutional because it excludes same-sex couples, the statement said.
Possible solutions, the court suggested, include following the Equality Project's proposal and have the Marriage Act say that marriage officers would ask parties if they would take their partner as their lawful wife, husband or spouse.
The organization, along with 18 other gay-rights groups in South Africa, filed the suit against the Minister of Home Affairs.
"We have been waiting 300 years, what's another year?" said Davie Nell, of the group OUT-LBGT Well Being, one of the plaintiffs.
"The matter touched on deep public and private sensibilities," the Court statement said. "Parliament was well-suited to finding the best ways of ensuring that same-sex couples are brought in from the legal cold."
A conservative group of medical doctors called Doctors for Life International condemned the ruling. It had submitted a brief to the court against the same-sex marriage position. The group said in a statement it "implores Parliament to allow empirical science to lead it in this decision for the benefit of all South Africans.
South Africa's post-apartheid constitution bans discrimination against gays and lesbians. The constitutional protection is a rarity on a continent where homosexuality is largely a taboo topic.
Anti-gay sentiment, however, is becoming increasingly popular in Africa, especially in more conservative religious groups. Henry Orambi, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda, recently told worshippers that society has "walked down the slippery road of immorality."
"As if woman-to-man is not enough, we have gone man-to-man and woman-to-woman," he said. "Now where are we going to end up?"
CNN Correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh contributed to this report.
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