Open letter to States of Jersey members ahead of the marriage debate

Liberate sent the following email to all States members this morning ahead of tomorrow’s debate:

We are writing to all States members to ask for your support in the passage of the Draft Marriage and Civil Status (Amendment No. 4) (Jersey) Law that is due to be debated in this week’s States sitting. Please vote against (P91/2017 Amd(2)) the amendment lodged by the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel on 16 January 2018.

Liberate opposes the introduction of the ‘tolerance clause’ that would allow an individual business owner with a religious conviction to discriminate legally against another individual in Jersey society in the provision of goods and services for a same-sex wedding. This position has public support. The petition ( launched 10 days ago by Liberate asking States members not to include a tolerance clause in the marriage legislation has now had nearly 5,000 signatories.

Whenever Liberate has been asked for input to this process, we have endeavoured to keep the debate respectful of all views and strongly support the fact that, under the new law, religious officials working within religious organisations that do not, for whatever reason, provide for same sex marriages will continue to be able to work within their governing body’s rules and regulations without breaching discrimination legislation in the island.

However, we believe that enshrining in law a ‘tolerance clause’ that sanctions the ability for individual to discriminate against individual is divisive and can only result in unhappiness for all concerned – the same sex couple who are refused a service and the business owner who discriminates and then has their religious conviction tested at a tribunal hearing.

The Jersey Evangelical Alliance have stated in their open letter to States members that: “If the law is passed without the current amendments it would mean that people of religious conviction would likely face intolerance and discrimination if they do not … provide goods and services that would endorse a same-sex marriage.” This is a misunderstanding of what it means to be discriminated against within law.

Being prevented from acting on deeply held beliefs by the law of the land is not discrimination. For example, a person might hold a deep belief about the amount of tax the richest 10% of the population should pay. This is not an extreme belief. Many people think that the rich do not pay enough tax, and believe that passionately and sincerely. However, should business owners with that belief be permitted by law to charge rich people, or people they perceive as rich, two times GST on a purchase? No, of course not, and the law stops business owners with a ‘Robin Hood’ belief from acting in that way. Because the law stops all business owners from acting in that way it does not discriminate between business owners with this belief and business owners without this belief. All business owners are expected to act in accordance with the law around charging GST.

Jersey has had discrimination legislation since September 2014. The introduction of any kind of tolerance clause for an individually held belief, be it religious, philosophical or political, starts a process of eroding the protections our island started to put in place less than 4 years ago, and would run counter to international opinion on the importance of not enshrining within anti-discrimination legislation these kind of exemptions.

We are asking States members to, therefore, reject ‘the tolerance clause’ by voting against (P91/2017 Amd(2)) the amendment lodged by the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel on 16 January 2018.

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