South Africa Oks Gays in Its Military
With barely a murmur of debate, South Africa's government has agreed to end discrimination against homosexuals in the military, joining just a handful of nations with that policy.
Few people here raised objections because the South African Constitution, adopted this month, directly outlaws discrimination by sexual orientation. In this respect, it's believed to be the only one of its kind in the world.
While the practical implications still have to be worked out, the South African National Defense Force now joins counterparts in Australia, Israel, and the Netherlands in adopting the principle.
The new Constitution, adopted on May 8, bars discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation as well as race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, disability, conscience, belief, culture, and language.
Seen as a discrimination issue
Only two years into multiracial democracy under President Nelson Mandela after decades of apartheid, now-ruling African National Congress politicians are deeply sensitive to accusations that they support any form of discrimination.
"The gay lobby was very successful getting it accepted as a human rights issue.... Even the [conservative] National Party [which ruled during the apartheid years] - if you tell them this is an issue of discrimination, they melt away. They all say they are for equality," says Pierre de Vos, a constitutional lawyer and parliamentary lobbyist.
The antiracist culture of the liberation movement "informed our approach" to homosexual issues, which is why the party pushed for gay rights clauses to be included in the Constitution and then the defense policy paper, explains Tony Yengeni, member of the ANC and chairman of Parliament's standing committee on defense. The defense department had submitted a White Paper, or policy paper, to the Parliament confirming an end to discrimination against gays in the military.