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Same-sex marriage legislation could be approved in January

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THE first same-sex weddings in Jersey could take place early next year, with proposals to change the marriage laws due to come back before the States for approval in January.

This year’s Channel Islands Pride Parade had gay marriage as its theme

This week the States debated the proposed amendments to the law which would formally legalise same-sex marriages.

The States voted in principle to approve these, but same-sex couples will have to wait a little longer for them to come into force, as the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel has called in the changes for review.

Panel chairman Deputy John Le Fondré said the legislation seemed ‘rushed’, was littered with mistakes and the fact that eight pages of amendments had been lodged by Chief Minister Ian Gorst showed the need to carefully review the wording of the updated marriage law.

The States first accepted the principle of allowing gay marriage in 2015. However, the amendments which would fully enact the law have been set back by a number of delays.

Senator Gorst brought the proposals which were approved on Thursday by 33 votes to one with two abstentions. St Martin Constable Michel Le Troquer voted against the principles, citing his religious views and the desire to see ‘conscience clauses’ added to the legislation.

Trinity Constable Philip Le Sueur and St Ouen Deputy Richard Renouf both abstained.

The Scrutiny panel has indicated it will report back early next year, with the final confirmation of the changes to the law due to be brought before the States on Tuesday 30 January.

As well as legalising same-sex marriages, the proposed amendments also make provisions for open-air weddings, allowing couples to get married on public beaches with permission from the parish.

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Explaining the need to review the law, Deputy Le Fondré said that the panel would not be attempting to stop or block the law from coming into force and that the panel ‘does not seek to reopen the debate’. But he added: ‘It seems to us that the process leading to the lodging was unduly rushed. It is essential to ensure good laws are passed and any inaccuracies are picked up before the law comes into force.’

The Deputy added that inaccuracies in the law could lead to those marriages becoming null and void and said that the panel had received 50 submissions regarding the proposals.

Among those submissions was a suggestion from the Jersey Evangelical Alliance that conscience clauses should be included which would allow religious individuals the right to refuse to rent or hire out venues, as well as to decline to perform or provide business services to same-sex couples.

Senator Philip Ozouf, who is the only openly gay States Member, welcomed the changes and said that any suggestion that a conscience clause should be inserted in the law would ‘send the message of intolerance’, adding that ‘discrimination has no place in society’.

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Deputy Sam Mézec, who first lodged proposals to legalise same-sex marriage in 2014, said that the fact that Jersey was catching up with the rest of the world was a ‘good thing’.

Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Green said that ‘love is love’ regardless of gender and urged the Scrutiny panel to complete its work as quickly as possible.

‘I respect the need for Scrutiny to look at this,’ he said. ‘But I think the message is that while we want them to a good job we don’t want them to take too long.’

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