Thousands in South Africa protest gay marriage bill
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 17 (Reuters) Thousands of Christians sang, prayed and chanted ''hallelujah'' as they marched through South African cities against a bill that would make the nation the first on the continent to legalize gay marriage.
The protests, spearheaded by the conservative African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), came days before a parliamentary commitee holds hearings on a bill that would accord same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.
At the parliament building in Cape Town, protesters opposed to the Civil Unions Bill presented a memorandum to home affairs portfolio committee chairman Patrick Chauke that demanded a constitutional amendment to ''protect'' traditional marriage.
Similtaneous marches were staged in other cities, including Johannesburg.
''The institution of marriage has been the cornerstone of civilised society for thousands of years,'' Steve Swart, an ACDP member of parliament, was quoted as saying by the SAPA news agency yesterday.
''Traditional marriages, in which one man and one woman create a lasting community, pass on time-honoured family values to secure the future and, therefore, are worthy of protection,'' said Swart, the party's justice critic.
South Africa's cabinet approved the bill last month after the country's highest court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry.
The court gave parliament one year to change the law.
Gay rights activists applauded the move, while religious groups, including the Catholic, Anglican and Dutch Reformed churches, opposed altering the current law, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
If enacted, the bill would place South Africa, which is predominantly Christian, among a handful of mostly European countries that allow same-sex marriage and make it the first to do so in Africa, where homosexuality remains largely taboo.
The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada already sanction gay marriages. Many African countries, however, outlaw homosexuality and turn a blind eye to the persecution of gays and lesbians.
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