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Navigating Thorny Issues: Balancing the New Marriage Bill in South Africa



Navigating Thorny Issues: Balancing the New Marriage Bill in South Africa

The Department of Home Affairs seeks public input on the Draft Marriage Bill 2022, which aims to recognise all types of intimate partnerships, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or cultural beliefs. The bill promotes liberal values of equality, human dignity, and freedom of thought as reported by African Insider.

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While the bill is commendable for encompassing diverse intimate partnerships under a single legislation, it raises some important questions. It fails to acknowledge partnerships like cohabitation and polyandry, which have gained prominence due to socioeconomic changes. These partnerships have significant implications for financial matters, property ownership, and child custody.

The bill’s definition of “ilobolo,” a customary marriage payment, appears outdated and excludes women from participating in its negotiation. Furthermore, the bill’s silence on the coexistence of civil law marriages with customary or religious marriages creates ambiguity and potential legal issues.

The definition of polygamous marriage in the bill also reflects a patriarchal bias. The bill imposes a one-size-fits-all standard for divorce, which may not align with diverse cultural practices.


To ensure fairness and avoid discrimination, the bill must address these thorny issues and consider the evolving realities of contemporary relationships. Legislative recognition of new forms of partnerships, like life partnerships, should be carefully handled while respecting cultural and religious practices.

A balanced approach is needed, promoting liberal values while preserving diverse customs and practices. By addressing these concerns, the bill can lead to more inclusive and equitable legislation for all intimate partnerships in South Africa.

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