Last edited: July 11, 2004

South Africa Court Upholds Gay Rights

Associated Press, October 9, 1998

By Pat Reber

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa—South Africa’s highest court today struck down apartheid-era laws banning homosexual sex, ruling that men charged or convicted of sodomy since 1994 could demand monetary damages and that their criminal records be cleared.

Gay rights have been protected since the 1994 provisional constitution paved the way for a final document approved in 1996. South Africa was the first country to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its constitution.

But the laws that criminalized sex between men remained until today’s court ruling.

Sex between women was never officially banned but was stigmatized by extension, the court said. It upheld an earlier ruling that the sodomy law was illegal.

"Gay men who have been persecuted for hundreds of years in this country now have the right to (file) claims from the state," said Zackie Achmat, director of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, which sought the ruling.

Under apartheid, sodomy could be punished with up to seven years in prison. Men were not allowed to have casual contact at social gatherings that could be construed as homosexual behavior.

The former South African military practiced "aversion therapy" on gay men, giving electric shocks to victims while they viewed images of naked men, a report on human rights abuses released last year said.

Since the first all-race election ended apartheid in 1994, President Nelson Mandela’s government has pushed to end all forms of discrimination.

The country’s military protects the rights of gay and lesbian soldiers. Earlier this year, the police were ordered to include a lesbian partner under one of its female officer’s medical insurance.

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