Civil Union vs Civil Marriage
There are three types of marriage in South Africa: Civil Marriage, Civil Union & Customary Marriage. Marriage officer Ryan Hogarth discusses the first two in this blog. Customary marriages are not handled by Marriage Officers but rather Home Affairs and are regulated by the Customary Marriages Act. In this blog, Ryan explains what a Civil Marriage and Civil Union is and if there are any differences.
Civil Marriage vs Civil Union; What are the Differences?
What is Civil Marriage?
This is the most common form of marriage in South Africa. Any marriage solemnised under the Marriage Act of 1961 is referred to as a civil marriage. When thinking of marriage in its most traditional form you are thinking of civil marriage and is only between a man and a woman.
What is a Civil Union?
Any marriage solemnised under the Civil Union Act of 2006 is a Civil Union. The primary function of this Act was to formalise same-sex weddings. Civil Unions or civil partnerships are often referred to as “same-sex” unions. This is a misnomer as the act defines a civil union as “a voluntary union between two persons of the same sex or of opposite sexes, older than the age of 18, solemnised and registered either by way of marriage or civil partnership.” This means that heterosexual couples may also be married under the Civil Union Act.
From a legal perspective, there is really no difference between civil marriage and a civil union. Both enjoy all the rights, protections, and consequences of marriage.
Why two laws for the same thing?
Under the South African constitution, same-sex marriages are protected. South African law had to reflect this and make provision for it. The original intention of Home Affairs was to amend or re-write the existing marriage act. However, there was a fierce objection, mostly from religious communities who oppose same-sex marriage and who also feared they would be forced to solemnise same-sex weddings over their objections. It was far easier then to simply write a new law to cover it.
The consequence of the above for Marriage Officers is that those who wish to solemnise same-sex marriages have to register for it. Those that object or do not wish to simply carry on as they are under the marriage act.
Ideally, there should just be one law covering both. At this writing, Home Affairs are the process of doing just that. It is their intention to bring all forms of marriage under one law and one process. This is very good news as the current arrangement has created confusion.
And, finally, to repeat: This is no difference in law between Civil Marriage and Civil Union. Whether same-sex or not both are regarded as a Marriage with the full extent what this means under the law being applicable to both.
Fun Fact About Surname Changes
In a civil marriage, only the bride has the option of changing or keeping her surname. With a civil union, both of a couple have the option. This means that under a civil union a groom could take his wife’s name. This is a rare choice but the number of times this happens is growing.
Watch the video below to find out everything you need to know about marriage ceremonies