No way to verify whether 80% of same-sex marriages in SA are by Afrikaans speakers

One language group in South Africa seemed to have leapt at the opportunity to enter into same-sex marriages - if a version of Wikipedia is to be believed.

UPDATE: After we published this report, Wikipedia Afrikaans removed the claim from their page about same-sex marriage.

More than a decade ago South Africa became the first African country to legalise same-sex marriages. But the bulk of these weddings take place between people of only one language group, according to online encyclopedia Wikipedia’s Afrikaans version.

Wikipedia Afrikaans tweeted: “About 80% of same-sex marriages in SA are by Afrikaans speakers.”

One of our readers asked us to look into this claim, saying it’s a “goodie”.

‘Only refers to one church community’

The claim is contained in a photo caption on a page about same-sex marriage in South Africa. Wikipedia Afrikaans contributor Sören Pfauder said he determined that the person who inserted the caption drew the information from a 2010 New York Times article. “However, it only refers to one church community in Cape Town,” Pfauder said.

The story featured a Cape Town reverend, Daniel Brits, who had officiated at more than 500 same-sex weddings in four years.

The article states: “Mr Brits, for one, said it was striking that 80% of the South Africans he has married have been Afrikaners, who come from a community that has long condemned homosexuality.”

Civil Union Act not only for same-sex couples

South Africa’s Civil Union Act was signed into law a year after the common-law definition of marriage was declared inconsistent with the country’s constitution in 2005.

But the Civil Union Act is not for the exclusive use of same-sex couples. It “provides for both same-sex and opposite-sex unions”, Ramadimetja Matji, director of health and vital statistics at Statistics South Africa, told Africa Check. “Spouses are identifiable as spouse 1 and spouse 2 only.”

Under the act, civil unions enjoy the same legal recognition that is afforded to civil as well as customary marriages.

1,185 civil unions in 2015

Stats SA reports on civil unions as part of its annual Marriages and Divorces Report. The latest one is for 2015 and contains data collected from the department of home affairs’ registration system.

The number of civil unions increased slightly between 2014 and 2015, from 1,144 to 1,185. Gauteng and the Western Cape had the highest number of civil unions registered with 443 and 346 respectively.  

As the sex of the spouses involved is not captured, the figures are based on all unions, whether of the same or opposite sex, Matji said. The race or home language of civil partners are also not collected, the department of home affairs’ Ashwin Ramsunder told Africa Check.

It’s therefore impossible to verify the claim that 80% of same-sex couples who got married were Afrikaans-speaking, Ramsunder, who is from the department’s directorate for marriages, said.

Manager of research, advocacy and policy at human rights organisation Triangle, Matthew Clayton, told Africa Check that he has “not seen any breakdown of people who enter into same-sex marriages”.

“I know there has been some [research conducted into same-sex marriages in South Africa], but most of what I can recall is about the legal change allowing it to happen and regarding its implementation,” Clayton said.

Conclusion: Claim based on an anecdote

A recent tweet by the Afrikaans version page of the Wikipedia claimed that roughly 80% of same-sex marriages in South Africa are entered into by Afrikaans speakers.

A closer look at the source of the claim revealed that the statement was an anecdote of one religious minister’s experience, seven years ago.

Neither Statistics SA nor the department of home affairs keeps record of the race or home languages of couples entering into civil unions in South Africa. Therefore there is no way to verify this claim, the department said.


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