The pre-1996 anti-gay/lesbian laws have been repealed and today South Africa’s constitution recognizes and protects the rights of homosexual people. The adoption of a new constitution in 1996 included a Bill of rights prohibiting discrimination on sexual orientation and opened up the space for the recognition and protection of the rights of homosexual people. The Equality Clause, Section 9 in the Bill of Rights, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation by the state and all other persons. The Civil Union Act, passed in November 2006, is the fruition of LGBTI peoples'lobbying for protection and recognition which was made possible by the new constitution. Although Parliament has passed more than 30 progressive laws that include the protection and recognition of LGBTI people, since 1994 there is still a great amount of stigmatization of the homosexual way of life. Not only is the homosexual couple made invisible in many instances, but the couple must also face prejudice from all sectors of society. The dominant hetero-normative narrative of relationships, has led to an “othering” of same-sex couples and families. Thus, despite equality in terms of the law, lesbian relationships are assumed to be inferior to heterosexual relationships because they are not conventional and are plagued by stereotypes and misconceptions. Unlike heterosexual women, lesbian women must contend with a society in which their lifestyle is not the norm. The impact of this oppressive cultural context on the individual and her intimate union is the subject of this study. Fifteen South African lesbians were interviewed in order to gain in-depth understanding of the potential stressors that intervene to shape their relationships, and their coping mechanisms, within the prevailing social and political milieu. The study outlines a variety of stressors as potential sources of conflict for lesbian couples thus contributing to building understanding of the dynamics of lesbian intimate unions. Additionally, in response to homophobic conceptions which are still dominant in society, the women reveal particular ways of representing themselves and their relationships. Different discourses are appropriated in an effort to present themselves in a more ‘favourable’ light. They valorise their relationships, adopt strategies to guard themselves and withstand stigmatisation. These actions however, also present certain stressors for their relationships. This exploratory study contributes to the growing body of literature on homosexuality, serving to counteract stereotypes and shed light on the dynamics specific to lesbian relationships. It highlights systemic, contextual, familial and intimate issues and the ways in which gay women contend with them. Copyright
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2010.