South Africa: Story Of Triumph For Inter-Racial And Inter-Faith Same-Sex Couple￼
Jacqui Benson-Mabombo and Sixolile Mabombo-Benson say their relationship “shows the middle finger to the likes of Adolf Hitler and Hendrik Verwoerd.”
Report by Sivuyisiwe Tywabi, Contributing Writer
Last year the interracial and interfaith same-sex couple crafted a wedding ceremony that incorporated elements from South Africa’s major religions, namely Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Traditional African Spirituality and Hinduism. Jacqui belongs to the progressive Jewish community while Xoli belongs to a Christian faith that is rooted in Traditional African Spirituality .
Their nuptials on 21 March 2022 included a Unitarian minister who is a former Buddhist nun, an imam, a rabbi, and three sangomas representing African traditional spirituality. Both Jacqui and Xoli spotted henna designs on their hands to represent Hinduism on their wedding day.
Despite their best efforts to celebrate inclusively, Jacqui and Xoli still encountered religious biases in the lead-up to their ceremony. Orthodox rabbis are not permitted to be officiants or celebrants at interfaith unions.
To overcome these barriers, the couple opted for a Unitarian minister with Judeo-Christian roots who was able to honour and accommodate both of their faiths.
Their unique union has since sparked meaningful conversations about inclusion within religious communities.
Gomo Lesejane is Communications Officer at Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM), an organization that lobbies and engages faith communities to raise their awareness of diversity regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics, as well the interpretation of sacred texts and to re-examine their beliefs and attitudes towards LGBTIQ+ people.
“Jacqui and Sixolile are friends of IAM, which makes their union and the way in which it was solemnised special to the organization,” Lesejane said. “While our methodology is primarily Bible-based and thus informed by the Christian tradition, we believe that all faith communities should be proponents of inclusivity for the LGBTIQ+ community.”
Jacqui and Xoli, who both use they/them pronouns, tied the proverbial knot at Kirstenbosch Gardens, that forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The couple was quick to point out that just over three decades ago they never would have been allowed to set foot in the gardens as an interracial couple, let alone an openly interfaith queer couple, as apartheid policies would have outlawed not only their union but everything that they stand for as humans.
They enlisted the help of sangomas to cleanse the space of its exclusionist and oppressive past. Both say their choice of venue was an unapologetic act of reclaiming the land and reintroducing their ancestors to it in a different epoch while ensuring inclusion and a sense of belonging. In choosing this venue and including five major religions, they hoped to shift narratives and paradigms while fostering some unlearning of old perceptions and ways of being and doing.
On their journey to getting married, Xoli said it felt like they were “infiltrating” the Jewish community, noting what they perceived to be protectiveness around being Jewish.
“Some questioned my not having converted and point blank asked me: don’t you want to convert; it would be much easier?” Xoli recalled. “I feel right at home in my Christian-based spirituality and belonging to the Unitarian Church, as it has Judeo-Christian [roots], which accommodates the both of us, much as I felt at home when I accompanied Jacqui for their Mikveh ceremony before our nuptials,” they added. Mikveh is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism to achieve ritual purity.
When South Africa adopted the Civil Union Act 17 of 2006 (Civil Union Act) on 1 December 2006, it became the first and remains the only country on the continent to confer legal protection and marriage benefits to partners in same-sex relationships.
The institution of marriage in the Civil Union Act has generated complex question in relation to the quality of legal protection accorded to partners in same-sex relationships. When this piece of legislation came about, the South African Parliament was sensitive to provide a remedy that would not be perceived as producing new forms of marginalization. Parliament then opted to develop a separate institution of marriage, apart from the existing forms of marriage such as civil or customary marriages.
In South Africa, heterosexual couples intending to marry can opt to do so under the Marriage Act or the Civil Union Act, but the same option is not afforded to same-sex couples, as the Marriage Act permits marriage exclusively for heterosexual couples.
Some feel this categorization of marriages into heterosexual and homosexual marriages or civil unions has created more legal uncertainty about the essence of the notion of equal rights for all, as envisaged in the country’s Constitution.
South Africa is far from being the paradise and haven for LGBTIQ+ communities that the world and the rest of the continent deem it to be, at least in legal terms and certain policies pertaining to the Civil Union Act.