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Same-sex marriage law: ‘Don’t justify discrimination’

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A PETITION has been launched calling on politicians not to support the protection of business owners who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings.

Vic Tanner Davy of Liberate

Liberate, the equality charity, has criticised a proposed clause within draft same-sex marriage legislation that would give wedding business owners – from musicians to photographers – the right to refuse services to same-sex couples on the basis of religious conviction.

The charity says the amendment, which was lodged by a Scrutiny panel, would ‘justify discrimination’ and ‘sets up an artificial division within society between those of religious conviction and those in same-sex relationships’.

It has now launched a petition calling on the States to reject the proposals, which are due to be debated when the full Draft Marriage and Civil Status Law is voted on later this month.

The Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, which held public hearings with interested groups, including religious leaders and Liberate during its review of the legislation, is proposing the introduction of a ‘limited and narrowly defined “tolerance” clause’.

In the report which accompanies the proposition, the panel says: ‘We are concerned about the absence of protections in the law if a tolerance cause is not adopted, for people who believe they cannot participate in same-sex marriage on the basis of their religious conviction.’

The panel says that tolerance clauses already exist in law. For example private members’ clubs are allowed to be selective on the basis of gender in some circumstances.

It has also proposed that the tolerance clause would extend to church-related buildings, meaning that a religious organisation would not be compelled to hold a same-sex wedding reception, for example in its church hall.

The amendment comes after the Rev Martyn Shea, chairman of the Jersey Evangelical Alliance, said in November that ‘conscience clauses’ should be included within marriage laws that 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.

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Mr Shea, who represents 17 member churches, said that businesses needed protection, as they could face prosecution and a £10,000 fine under discrimination laws should they refuse to take part in the ceremony.

Vic Tanner Davy, chief executive of Liberate, said that the amendment did not define religious conviction.

‘It could be just a belief they hold or it could be that they are a regular attendee at a particular place of worship,’ he said.

‘As the transgender community will testify, having to prove a personal belief to a tribunal is a degrading experience.’

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Mr Davy added: ‘We made it clear in our submission to the Scrutiny panel that we are opposed to any enshrinement into law of a clause that sets one group or individual against another. We do not believe that there is a desire for this clause from wedding suppliers and we do not believe that the amendment as drafted will address the perceived problem the Scrutiny panel are seeking to address. The outcome of invoking such a clause to justify discrimination would be unhappy for all concerned.

‘This amendment has not been publicly consulted on and our instinct is that if it were to be it would not receive public support. This is why we have launched a petition to gauge public reaction.’

The draft marriage law, which was lodged by Chief Minister Ian Gorst and is due to be debated on 30 January, includes provisions known as the ‘quadruple lock’, which guarantees that religious organisations and officials would not have to marry same-sex couples against their wishes. This provision is not being opposed.

People wishing to sign the petition can log on to liberate.je.

Krysta Eaves

By Krysta Eaves
author

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