South African singer-songwriter Johnny Clegg is known as The White Zulu for his pioneering world music work, founding interracial bands Juluka and Savuka. His solo career takes him to Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre on Saturday, June 30, the Jackson-Triggs Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Saturday, July 7, and the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ont., on Sunday, July 8.
Are you married?
Yes. I’ve been married for a long time now. I’ve been with my partner for 33 years. I have been married for 24 of those.
Do you have children?
Two sons. One 23, one 17.
Do you believe in same-sex marriage?
From a relationship point of view, I certainly do. I don’t think you can argue that one form of marriage lasts longer or is any better than the other. The issue around it is benefits. The benefits denied to people who love one another and are of the same sex. It’s a matter of rights. Rights of inheritance, rights of property, in mutual investments and any other rights that are afforded a legally constituted relationship. Any true democratic society, any advanced progressive social system should not deny anybody or any group of people their rights.
What is the status of same-sex unions in South Africa?
It is the most progressive in Africa. We have same-sex marriage with all rights enshrined in the constitution. They have happened here since the new South Africa came into being. There is a very strong church lobby to reverse all those gains, but it isn’t going to happen.
You mention the church lobby. Much opposition to same sex-marriage is biblically based – “God ordained marriage between a man and a woman for procreation.” Does that argument hold any water with you?
I believe those people who want to have children will have children. [In] my first marriage, I got married for two years then got divorced and we did not have children. Marriage between people, heterosexual couples, does not guarantee children. A gay couple can adopt children and can raise very bright, intelligent kids. All ideological objection comes from a power base. Creeds of any sort are seeking to protect a power base.
Another objection cited is that gay marriage goes against nature. There are few, if any, instances of gay animal pairings.
It is against nature for humans to fly. It is against nature for humans to wear condoms. We are conscious of our consciousness. We are a thinking animal. We are not an animal that has been straitjacketed by its biological constructions. We are free to ask questions and devise new ways. You have to be very careful about saying what is natural, especially when you are talking about adult relationships.
Then there are those heterosexual married couples who feel that same-sex marriage somehow defiles the institution.
We would prefer rationality. We would prefer not to look at faith-based arguments. Faith-based arguments have led to genocide. So many problems have faith-based arguments. If, by long-standing historical example, by living by those principles, the whole social order is uplifted, made better, there would be no murder or jealousy, hatred, adultery, those sorts of things. We are really looking at a set of principles that have been devised to try and convert people to an act of faith. I am of the persuasion that society based on reason and rationality can come up with very, very strong arguments, sometimes better than faith-based arguments.
If you are upset because it defiles your notion of marriage, that is a sign of intolerance. Tolerance is based on reason. Rational argument. And although there are many religions that claim to preach and practise tolerance, one finds that the more right-wing and radical parts of their community are usually the exact opposite.
What next? some opponents argue. Will people soon be free to marry their sister, their dog, et cetera?
The slippery-slope argument. There is a rational genetic argument against marrying your sister. There is a rational genetic argument against marrying your dog. Any set of rights are balanced by countervailing rights. There are no sets of rights that are universal and cannot be challenged by other rights. That is the issue that makes democracy interesting. That is the brake on any form of extremism.
Why should anyone care how two other consenting adults live?
One has to allow for freedom of expression. That is what I am trying to explain, the right of extreme argument, a person to make an extreme judgment call about same-sex marriage. That person must have a right to express his opinion, otherwise society closes down. I believe in an open society where you have balancing rights enshrined in a constitution. And that is why you have a legal profession – to explain why, in certain circumstances, certain rights can override others. That is the key. Where we’ve come over 200 years of blood, sweat and tears.