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Will you marry me? To be Christian, gay, traditional and a Blesser.

The Zimbabwean Government tabled a marriage bill in Parliament this last week to great fanfare, chagrin, interest and in some cases, utter contempt. The legal thoughts will be discussed by lawyers, the social issues at bars, but I would like to focus on what this bill will mean in what we define when we answer the question, “what is to be Zimbabwean, what is our (political) culture?”

Prior to this bill, the marriage laws created two firm banks; the traditional marriage and ‘formal’ christian marriage. Since then, marriage has revolved those issues. Should we get a traditional marriage, should we be married in church? Silently and under the radar, other partnerships were stewing and blooming, “small houses”. Men known as sugar daddies and women known as sugar mommies used their money to win over the desires of younger women and men. These small houses became a fixture of life for middle-old aged men. The bill states that civil partnerships will be included which allow for ‘small houses’ to have stronger and needed recognition within the law. This is most important for women who are taken advantage of by older, married, richer men. It changes the politics of the bedroom. A power shift will be at play where ideas of “friends with benefits’ or simple open ended ‘co-habitation’ is not so simple anymore.

To put simply, it is going to be harder and more expensive to be a Blesser. People in marriages who have shielded their marriages from their naughty other life will find it harder in the face of law to hide their inequities, because in actual fact, it is no longer an inequity. The recognition gives it equal footing with other types of union under the Bill. It is also a distinct move from a cultural base of African traditional religion and Christianity to one that is more secular. Society will not be held up against accepting religious edicts but you can walk to a court and ask for a hand in civil partnership. This promotes an individual liberty of companionship in Zimbabwe not really known before this bill.

But if the bill has shown a move to acknowledging individual liberty and secularism (or liberalism) why not the gay marriage? It is easy to say “it is not our culture” but until this bill, we did not acknowledge our sub-culture of small houses. And the reality is there is a strong homosexual community within Zimbabwe. The fact of the matter is we did not have a ‘culture’ of Christianity until 150 years ago. This simultaneously provides a contradiction and clarity in terms of the political culture. In as much as Zimbabwe is becoming more feminist, liberal and sexually open, the sexism and patriarchy that informed the previous Act is still rife and widespread. It is the same patriarchy that does not acknowledge marriage or male rape in its laws. It does also present an opportunity for opposition parties to run hard in support of these minority rights. Supporting gay rights might backfire politically in the short term, but support for acknowledging other ways of union could lead to increasing the support base of any party willing to take up the mantle in the long term.

Ironically and in contradiction to most intellectual thought on this issue, the soft liberalization of marriage this bill proposes, is a positive for the christian marriage.

The christian marriage has been abused, bastardized and disrespected, since its formation. In the general, the christian marriage requires monogamy, heterosexuality (hotly debated) exclusivity and faithfulness. These virtues have failed under the pressures of all the other options that have opened up. The plurality of options that are being availed in this bill gives one the option to think deeply about what christian marriage is to them and if they are willing to embrace it or not. This could lead to the resurrection of the christian marriage within the church instead of spending energy on the denunciation of gay or traditional unions. One thing is for sure, Zimbabwe has never been and is not simply a christian state, it is more heterogeneous and complex. This bill shows that.

Lastly, the bill states in black and white that marriage will be for those 18 and above. This seemingly obvious line is an affront and declaration of war against very powerful, influential sects of Apostolic sects mapostori. They have come out strongly calling for respect of their cultural rights to marry girls before they are 18. The political effects of this not being known yet, enforcement against under age marriage will be intriguing to see how it will be done. ZANU PF has traditionally relied on the unequivocal support of this strata of community. I don’t think they will enforce as strongly as they could, but this does set the future legal battleground lines in black and white.

This short, brief political outline of the bill does show something; the Zimbabwean political society and culture is no longer ubiquitous or homogeneous. If Zimbabwe was a person in 1980, that person would have been a heterosexual, married, cheating man. Now he is a Christian, gay, traditional and Blesser in a civil partnership. It is a shift from the conservative swinging to the liberal within the shackles of patriarchy and the fear of the unknown.

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