The Civil Union Act, 2006 (Act No. 17 of 2006) which accords same-sex couples the same rights and status as heterosexual married couples breaks new ground. The Act ensures and respects the equality and the dignity of same-sex people in South African society.

The signing into law of the Civil Union Act makes the democratic South Africa the fourteenth country in the world and the first in the continent to afford same-sex couples equal protection through legal instruments such as the Civil Union Act.

In terms of the provisions of the Civil Union Act, anyone 18 years or older may enter into a civil union. Any religious denomination or organization wishing to solemnize civil unions has to apply in writing to the Minister to be designated as a religious institution that may solemnize marriages in terms of the Civil Union Act.

Furthermore, any Minister of religion or any person holding a responsible position in any designated religious institution must in writing apply to be designated as a marriage officer for purposes of solemnizing marriages in accordance with this Act. State officials who have already been designated as marriage officers in terms of the Marriage Act of 1961 may solemnize civil unions with immediate effect.

The parties to the civil union may choose to have their civil union registered as either a marriage or a civil partnership, upon which a certificate will be issued and the particulars will be entered into the population register. It should be noted that the Civil Union Act does not repeal the Marriage Act of 1961 or the Recognition of the Customary Marriages Act of 1998.