In 2012 the States of Jersey put in place the Civil Partnership (Jersey) Law that provided same-sex couples with a legal means to register their partnership. It wasn’t marriage, it was different. For some, that difference meant civil partnerships were a consolation prize for gay people that would never be equal to the ‘gold standard’ of marriage; for others, that difference meant civil partnerships were untarnished by the baggage associated with a traditional institution like marriage; for others, civil partnerships were simply the first and necessary step towards same-sex couples being allowed to marry.
In February 2018 the States of Jersey amended the Marriage and Civil Status (Jersey) Law to open up marriage to everyone irrespective of the genders of the partners wanting to marry. This created the situation in which the island now finds itself, where same-sex couples have a choice – marriage or civil partnership – but different-sex couples can only choose marriage. This is patently unfair and the inequality needs to be addressed.
One option to resolve this would be to remove the ability for anyone to enter into a new civil partnership from a particular date. Thus, ultimately, consigning civil partnerships to history.
We can forsee problems with this approach:
1. As time passes, a little like older versions of Microsoft Windows where technical support is gradually withdrawn, those in civil partnerships will find their needs considered less and less by government; and,
2. Those in civil partnerships will feel pressure to convert their partnership into a marriage in order to keep their legal status relevant.
(As far as Liberate is aware nobody is suggesting that those in existing civil partnerships should be forced to convert them to marriages, although conversion is an option under the Marriage Law for those who wish to do so.)
Liberate would rather see civil partnerships opened up to all couples. Our reasons are as follows:
1. Not everyone wants to get married. It’s all about personal choice. Those who have experienced divorce may feel marriage is tarnished for them, and women, particularly, may feel that marriage carries patriarchal overtones. For some, a civil partnership is a modern, equal way of expressing their partnership. In the UK, 17% of same-sex couples have chosen civil partnership over marriage since its introduction in March 2014.
2. The law treats cohabiting couples as two unrelated individuals. The idea that a ‘common law marriage’ entitles the cohabiting partners to the same rights as a marriage or civil partnership is a common, but wrong, assumption. The state should be encouraging couples to put their cohabitation on a legal basis – it can provide rights under company pension and health insurance schemes, gives financial support to one or both parties on the breakdown of the relationship, gives rights to the surviving partner on the death of the other, and provides tax exemptions and entitlements to benefits.
3. In October 2018, the UK announced that it will be looking to extend civil partnerships to all couples. If Jersey do not also open up civil partnerships it will be out of step with the neighbour that provides its greatest number of immigrants and unable to recognise the legal status of those different-sex couples in civil partnerships coming to the island to live and work.
4. The Isle of Man is currently the only place in the British Isles where different-sex couples can have a civil partnership. The Crown Dependency amended their civil partnership law when they amended their marriage law in 2016 to open it up to all couples. They now see couples travel to the island to have their civil partnership ceremonies.
Like Jersey, the Isle of Man’s marriage law is more progressive than in the UK and highly regarded internationally for being so. As we saw during the months leading up to the passing of equal marriage legislation in Jersey, the world watches these social developments with interest and it can only enhance Jersey’s standing on the world stage to do as the Isle of Man has done. It may also encourage tourism.
Progress: If you would like to have your say on this issue, the States of Jersey Community and Constitutional Affairs Department have launched a consultation that runs until 22 February 2019 that can be accessed here.