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Vote against 'tolerance clause', Christian leaders tell politicians

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TWO Christian leaders have urged States Members to reject a controversial ‘tolerance clause’ due to be debated this week that would allow business owners to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The States is due to debate same-sex marriage, including the controversial 'tolerance clause' this week

The clause, which would allow professionals, such as musicians and photographers, to refuse their services to same-sex couples on the grounds of their religious beliefs, has been widely criticised, while a petition calling for the clause to be rejected has attracted almost 4,000 signatures.

Now, Jayne Ozanne – a member of the Church of England’s General Synod – and superintendent of Jersey’s Methodist Circuit the Rev Graeme Halls have written open letters to all States Members calling on the clause to be thrown out.

The States are this week due to debate the final stage of proposed law changes which would legalise same-sex marriage.

The draft marriage law, which was lodged by Chief Minister Ian Gorst, already includes a provision known as the ‘quadruple lock’, which guarantees that religious organisations and officials would not be obliged to conduct services for same-sex couples. This provision is not being opposed.

However, the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel has suggested that a tolerance clause also be included in the law. As saying that such a clause would protect businesses, the panel 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.

Ms Ozanne, an openly gay evangelical Christian, said that any clause which sought to ‘demonise one group as "the other"’ would ultimately cause ‘pain and suffering’.

She added: ‘My prayer would be that we build a society that knits us closer together, that we enshrine the values that make us thrive and that we seek to embrace the diversity and equality of all.

‘To do otherwise would be to create a society that is defined by its divisions, which builds walls rather than bridges, and so opens the door to further discrimination against those who are our neighbours.’

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The States have already agreed in principle that same-sex marriage should be legalised, with the Scrutiny panel opting to review the legislative changes. Since the end of last year, the panel have held a number of public hearings, including with religious leaders and gay rights charity Liberate.

Rev Halls, a board member of Liberate, said: ‘This is a debate about how we ensure all of our community has equal rights and responsibilities, and that means that one group does not and cannot have the right to discriminate against another, and certainly not for that to be enshrined in law.

‘I hope that the States will not pass the tolerance clause, because it is a fine line between conscience and prejudice, justice and belief – and when the two get muddled we can find ourselves campaigning for matters that can be used by others against ourselves. So we need to be careful what we wish for.’

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