08 October 2009: LGBTI activists and human rights defenders have spoken against homophobic attacks by Zehir Omar, amongst others, aimed at High Court Judge Kathy Satchwell doubting her competence to be a Constitutional Court Judge because of her sexual orientation.
In his complaint Zehir Omar, lawyer for the Society for the Protection of the Constitution told the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) that “learned Judge Satchwell’s unconventional lifestyle is not something that the majority of South Africans can relate to, the majority of South Africans are God-fearing and will not be able to identify with the learned judge since there is no religion that condones homosexuality.”
“Such an attack fuels bigotry and promotes unfair discrimination against gay and lesbian people, we do not support any argument that attempt to disqualify our colleagues who are gay or lesbian from holding public office, including that of being a judge in any of our courts”, reads the Public Statement on Sexual Orientation and the Constitution.
The Public Statement which largely condemns Omar’s remarks outlines that, the cornerstone of our society and that of every major religion to treat every other person with human dignity.
“We note with deep regret and concern the attack made against the renowned human rights and struggle lawyer on the grounds of her sexual orientation”, the statement continues.
Meanwhile the South African constitution prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Judge Satchwell, was nominated for one of the four vacant positions at the Constitutional Court by the Black Sash, Wits Law Clinic, People Opposing Women Abuse, advocate Marisa Mathebula, advocate Zinhle Buthelezi and attorney Ronald Bobroff.
The public statement also appeals to Law Societies, legal practitioners and the general public to ensure that values and protections provided in the constitution are observed and “not eroded by bigotry against gay and lesbian people.”
The Sunday Independent reported on 28 August 2009, that Human Rights Commission head Jody Kollapen slammed Omar for his “deeply offensive comments about Satchwell’s sexuality.” and also questioned which constitution Omar’s society was claiming to protect.
“These types of complaints undermine the very spirit of our constitution”, said Kollapen.
Kollapen pointed out that “many gay and lesbian people fought in the anti-apartheid struggle, saying that these members of the gay community are no longer good enough to serve in our democratic society is a shocking double standard.”
Signatories of the joint public statement include, Phumi Mtetwa of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), Jewish OutLook, Anthony Manion, Gala Director, David Bilchitz Constitutional Lawyer, Nazir Kathrada, Ebrahim Moosa Professor of Religious Studies, Nancy Castro-Leal lesbian feminist activist, Nawaal Deane Television Producer, Faizel Randera Doctor, Adila Hassim Lawyer, Quraissha Abdool Karrim Doctor and many more.
The Mail and Guardian online also reported that Satchwell said “in the 13 years she had been a judge, nobody had ever asked for her recusal because of her private life, nor had it been argued in appeals on her work.
In 2001 Judge Satchwell, who is an open lesbian won the right for her partner to enjoy the same benefits as those previously reserved for spouses of married heterosexual judges and that decision is seen as one of five key decisions that set the status of same-sex civil unions in South Africa.
“The only criteria that is constitutionally relevant in our democracy for appointment to judicial office is whether a candidate is fit and proper to hold office”, reads the statement.
In 2006 South Africa became the first African country to legalise same-sex marriages when the Civil Unions Bill was passed into parliament.