Engendering gay and lesbian rights: The equality clause in the South African Constitution

Engendering gay and lesbian rights: The equality clause in the South African Constitution

The paper focuses on the origins and impact of the ‘‘gay rights clause’’ in the post-apartheid constitution of South Africa. The clause, explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, was the first of its kind in the world. It represents a paradox given the commitment of the post-apartheid state to mass participation in policy formulation and high levels of homophobia. The clause is explained in terms of the ability of a male-dominated gay rights movement to form strategic alliances with the anti-apartheid struggle, to mobilise the narrative of equality and to lobby effectively during the constitution making process. Since 1996, it is shown that lesbian initiatives have been significant in attempts to mobilise the clause to realise substantive equality. However, these have tended to reflect class- and race-based privilege, and for the gay rights movement to become a transformative force, any development depends on an extension of the present focus on justice to include rights and redistribution. [abstract author’s own]

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