A critical engagement? Analysing same-sex marriage discourses in To Have and to Hold: The Making of Same-Sex Marriage in South Africa (2008) – A queer perspective

Tracey Lee McCormick


The legalisation of same-sex marriage in South Africa in November 2006 made the country the exemplar for gay and lesbian rights in Africa. The advocacy of, struggle for, and finally winning the right to marry was a euphoric victory for numerous gay and lesbian people. The various steps that had to be negotiated in order to pass the Civil Union Act are documented in To Have and to Hold: The Making of Same-Sex Marriage in South Africa (2008, hereafter To Have and to Hold). The blurb at the back of To Have and to Hold describes the book as “invaluable for understanding [the same-sex marriage] journey and its legal, social, cultural and religious ramifications”. The editors of the volume, Judge, Manion and de Waal, add that the various stakeholders that supported same-sex marriage “adequately interrogated the role and function of marriage” (Judge et al. 2008: 12). In this article, I put this claim to the test by interrogating the legal, social, cultural and religious reasons put forward in favour of same-sex marriage in To Have and to Hold. From a queer point of view, same-sex marriage is problematic because it ignores the regulatory power of the state, the fact that marriage is a public tradition, the argument that the supposed “respectability” bestowed by marriage is a farce, and the contention that legal benefits should be given to people regardless of their marital status. I use queer linguistic tools to deconstruct the claim by the editors that the text represents a “critical engagement” with same-sex marriage (Judge et al. 2008: 1). I conclude the article by showing how, rather than opening a space for the “recognition of diverse sexualities and relationship forms” (Judge et al. 2008: 12), the Civil Union Act is limited to those people who self-identify as gay or lesbian.


queer, same-sex marriage, South Africa, discourse analysis

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5842/46-0-656


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