The Bloemfontein Appeal Court on Tuesday declared by a majority vote that the common law concept of marriage should be developed to embrace same sex marriages.
A Pretoria lesbian couple, Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys, lodged the appeal after the Pretoria High Court turned down their application for their marriage to be recognised and be registered by the Department of Home Affairs.
Appeal Court Judge, Edwin Cameron, said in his judgment said the definition of marriage should read: "Marriage is the union of two persons to the exclusion of
He also ruled that the marriage was capable of lawful recognition as a legally valid marriage.
While lesbian and gay organisations have welcomed the decision as a "breakthrough", religious organizations have described the court decision as "shocking".
"The decision undermines the status of the good moral institution of marriage, by equating it with immoral homosexual relationships," said Christian View Network in a statement today.
Calling on South Africans to resist the court's decision because it was "judicial tyranny," the Network said society should uphold the sanctity of marriage. The ruling African National Congress party in its reaction said the issue would be discussed "intensely" within the party structure.