The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is developing a new policy which will introduce changes to South Africa’s marriage laws.

Presenting its annual performance plan to parliament, the DHA said that the policy will be gazetted for public consultation during the 2020/21 financial year, after which it will be submitted to cabinet for approval by 31 March 2021.

The department explained that the legislation which currently regulates marriages in South Africa has been developed without an overarching policy that is based on constitutional values (e.g. equality, nondiscrimination and human dignity) and an understanding of modern social dynamics.

This has led to the recognition of different marriage rituals without any harmonisation, it said.

“Despite all the changes that have been made in the marriage legislation post-1994, there are still serious gaps in the current legislation.

“For instance, the current legislation does not regulate some religious marriages such as the Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages that are practised in some African or royal families.

“Given the diversity of the South Africa population it is virtually impossible to pass legislation governing every single religious or cultural marriage practice.

“It is against this background that the DHA is embarking in the process of developing a marriage policy that will lay a policy foundation for drafting a new single or omnibus legislation.”

Some of the key changes that will be introduced in the new policy include:

  • The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages;
  • The introduction of strict rules around the age of marriage (including the alignment of age of majority in the marriage legislation to the Children’s Act);
  • It will align the marriage, matrimonial property and divorce legislation to address matrimonial property and intestate succession matters in the event of the marriage dissolution;
  • It will allow for equitable treatment and respect for religious and customary beliefs in line with Section 15 of the Constitution.
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of marriages that involve foreign nationals;
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of customary marriages that involve non-citizens especially cross-border communities or citizens of our neighbouring countries