priorities

Are White South Africans Having An Easier Time Getting Gay Married Than Blacks?

In white South Africa, the nation’s same-sex marriage law has been widely celebrated. In black South Africa, not so much.

While Afrikaners are trekking up to Cape Town’s Table Mountain to say “I do” in decent numbers, the four years where gays could marry has yet to affect many blacks (read: the majority of the country) in townships, the New York Times reports.

But even as human rights advocates praise the country’s legal openness and the economic windfall that has accompanied same-sex nuptial tourism, they fret that the law, like so much of the new South Africa’s promise and prosperity, has bypassed many of the country’s citizens, particularly in the black majority.

Anthony Manion, director of Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action, said the law had largely failed to benefit blacks living in the impoverished townships that stretch for miles outside cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg. In them, gay men and lesbians often face unabashed discrimination and violence; advocates say that a growing number of lesbians have become victims of so-called corrective rapes aimed at ridding them of their sexual orientation.

“The vast majority of gay people in South Africa are still shut off from marrying the partner of their choice because of the deep economic inequality, social isolation and cultural exclusion,” Mr. Manion said.

Not that gay white Afrikaners had it easy.

Others say change in the socially conservative townships will take time, and they point to a shift in attitudes among Afrikaners — the white minority that once imposed racial apartheid on the nation — and within the mixed-race population known as coloreds. Mr. Brits, for one, said it was striking that 80 percent of the South Africans he has married have been Afrikaners, who come from a community that has long condemned homosexuality.

Perhaps most astonished are the same-sex couples who expected far more resistance among their families. When Jens Von Wichtingen, a German, and his Afrikaner husband, Daniel, who took his surname, married in February after 17 years together, they were surprised at how readily Daniel’s deeply religious parents accepted their union.

Or quite likely, like most things “concerning race,” the issue is really about socioeconomic class. And in post-apartheid South Africa, whites still disproportionately enjoy higher paying jobs and hold more wealth than their black and colored counterparts, many of whom call townships — vast cities constructed of shacks — home.

[pictured: Vernon Gibbs and Tony Halls, South Africa’s first gays to get married, in 2006]