A Guide to Civil Unions

A guide to civil unions in South Africa


Civil unions have been legal in South Africa since 2006, and if you’re planning to tie the knot with a same sex partner, here’s everything you need to know about civil partnership and planning your big day.

Civil Union

What is a Civil Union?

The Civil Union Act became effective in December 2006, allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into a legal relationship identical to a marriage but recognised under a completely separate legal act — known as a civil union — designed for same sex couples. South Africa was the first African country to introduce such a law.

If you’re having a civil union with your partner, it is up to you whether you refer to it as a civil partnership or a marriage.

Is a Civil Union Really the Same as a Marriage?

The legal implications of a civil partnership made under the Civil Union Act are exactly the same as a marriage made under the Marriage Act. Any reference to husband, wife or spouse in any law is deemed to include a civil partner, and the divorce laws for straight married couples are the same for gay civil partners.

Same sex civil partners in South Africa also have the same financial status and benefits, plus equal immigration and adoption rights, to married heterosexual partners.

Who Can Conduct a Civil Union?

Civil partnerships can be conducted by an authorised marriage official, such as a designated officer employed by the Department of Home Affairs and the Magistrates’ Courts.

What are the requirements for registering a civil union?

Both persons must be unmarried (in terms of any other act, including a legal marriage or civil partnership) and 18-years-old or above. Just like any marriage, both partners must enter into the partnership voluntarily; it must not take place under duress, undue influence or other similar factors.

There are also rules preventing relatives, and former spouses or siblings of relatives (by blood and by marriage), from marrying. For more information visit: http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/marriage-certificates

What Documents Will I Need in Order to Have a Civil Union?

On the big day, you will both be required to bring several documents with you to the ceremony including your identity documents and South African ID numbers.

If either you or your partner has been married before you will also need to provide the final decree from a divorce, or the deceased spouse’s death certificate. If either you or your partner is a foreign national you will both need to present valid passports and a completed Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage/letter of no impediment.

During your ceremony, at least two competent witnesses must be present.

Is There Anything Else We Need to Bear in Mind?

As a couple, you’ll need to decide whether you want your ceremony to be in your local community or in a different area. You’ll also need to think about which names you will choose once your union has taken place and most couples also agree terms for a prenuptial contract (if you own or are buying property together this is very important).

You also need to think about what kind of wedding day you want. Whether you decide on a simple and intimate ceremony, without any fuss, or a lavish ceremony with a huge celebration afterwards, the day of your civil union should be as unique and special as you are.

Where Should We Celebrate Our Civil Union?

You may marry anywhere you like, indoors or outdoors (such as in a garden or on a beach), but the register must be signed under a permanent structure.

Like any wedding, there are many factors to consider such as geography (do you want to marry in your home town or elope to a wonderful location elsewhere?), guest requirements and your personal taste when it comes to the style, décor and service at the venue.

Cape Town’s vibrant gay scene makes it a very popular location for civil unions, offering couples great value for money, first-class accommodation and good weather.

Other major cities, including Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban offer large venues, cosmopolitan cuisine and gay-friendly clubs, cafes and restaurants.

If you’d prefer to celebrate out of town there are venues from stunning hotels on the Wild Coast to an array of beautiful vineyards outside Cape Town to consider.

Wherever you want to marry, make an appointment with the venue team before you book and get to know them. Once you know they are a gay-friendly venue with dedicated, professional staff to help you celebrate your civil union in style, you can really relax and enjoy your planning.

When should we start planning our civil union?

It depends where you want to hold your ceremony and celebration: very popular venues get booked up quite far in advance and you’ll also need to make arrangements for a designated marriage official to be available on your civil union date, at the location you have chosen.

When you do begin the planning process, it helps to build a picture of the kind of wedding you both dream of and then turning that into a reality. Try creating mood boards online, or in a scrap book, finding images that capture everything from the suits/dresses you love to the décor, venue and flowers. By visualising your wedding in this literal way, it’s much easier to find ideas you both agree on.

You may have exactly the same vision for the big day, or your idea of the perfect wedding may differ. Compromise is usually required at some stage and by sharing all your hopes and dreams, honesty and openly, you can create a beautiful day that reflects your personalities and relationship.


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