Today, we have sent the following open letter to all Members of the States of Jersey on the subject of the Draft Marriage and Civil Status (Amendment No. 4) (Jersey) Law to be debated on Tuesday 14 November 2017.
Dear States Member
On 22 September 2015, the States of Jersey made a commitment to the people of the Island they serve that: “appropriate legislation should be brought forward for approval to allow same-sex couples to get married in Jersey, with the legislation to –
- include civil marriage and religious marriage with appropriate safeguards in place to protect the rights of religious organisations and their officials who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages;
- include allowing people in civil partnerships to convert their partnership into marriage;
- include retention of terms such as ‘husband and wife’, ‘mother and father’ in legislation;
- not include a spousal veto in respect of gender recognition.”
Other commitments were also made on that day, which have yet to be delivered and which we trust will continue to be worked on by the Chief Minister’s Department. Liberate is pleased that the first part of the proposition has now been delivered.
Liberate has read thoroughly the draft law lodged by the Chief Minister on 3 October 2017 and we have responded to the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel’s request for evidence, considering each of the terms set by the panel for their scrutiny. Our conclusion is that the law, as drafted and amended, fulfils successfully part (a) of the ‘in principle’ decision taken by the States Chamber on 22 September 2015. (Our response to the Scrutiny Panel’s request for evidence can be read here.)
Over the last two months, there have been a number of comments in the media regarding the necessity of including a so-called ‘conscience clause’ in the marriage law. Many will have read the memo from the Christian Legal Centre in the UK circulated last weekend to Jersey politicians.
To be clear, a ‘conscience clause’ is not the same as the ‘quadruple lock’, which is fully implemented within the draft marriage law and which protects members of the clergy from being forced to perform a marriage ceremony against their conscience. Were a ‘conscience clause’ to exist in law, it would relate to members of the general public who happen to hold a particular religious view that, in this case, opposes same-sex marriage.
Liberate urges Members to reject calls for any such addition to the marriage law on the grounds that defining the ability for one group to discriminate legally, through an exemption, against another group sits within the Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013. Therefore, the ‘conscience clause’ argument is not, in our view, a valid reason to delay the passage of the marriage legislation and is a separate issue that should be dealt with as such.
Finally, Liberate would ask States Members to do all in their power to minimise any further delays to the passage of the marriage law for three reasons:
- Jersey’s tourism industry needs to know where it stands to be able to advertise open-air ceremonies and same-sex weddings in 2018;
- Jersey’s international reputation as a safe tourist destination that welcomes all visitors equally would have that reputation questioned by further delays to this legislation, particularly as both Guernsey and Alderney have changed their marriage laws – it would appear as if Jersey were deliberately ‘dragging its heels’; and,
- individual Islanders’ lives and finances are being impacted by the delays – same-sex couples’ wedding plans are being pushed back as they still do not know when they will be able to marry and couples, who wish to have an open-air ceremony, are now having to make alternative arrangements to find an available approved venue that, with less than a year to the ceremony, is an almost impossible task.
Vic Tanner Davy
(Honorary) Chief Executive Officer
For and on behalf of Liberate