‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression’ Author unknown
This week the States of Jersey will vote to enact legislation to extend the rights established in law of heterosexuals to same-sex couples.
A law to permit the marriage of two people, be they same sex or not, must be universal and non-discriminatory.
Anything else would be abhorrent to me and I hope an overwhelming majority of others.
The States voted for marriage equality in principle in October 2015.
Note the last paragraph which set out timetable.
Whilst it is accepted that the law drafting was complicated and the government has had other major priorities, it is a matter of regret that the law was lodged later than expected on 2nd October 2017.
However, the debate commenced on 16th November 2017 and it was expected that the law would have been properly scrutinised and marriage equality made lawful in relatively early course.
However as has happened a number of times before the debate was halted due to the decision of the Chairman of Corporate Services who used unilateral powers to delay and undertake further scrutiny.
The right is not questioned – legislation should be scrutinised – but the Panel does not appear to have respected the agreed timetable or understand the urgency that there is a legitimate expectation that the law would take effect.
The Panel have taken two months to conclude their work and have lodged a series of amendments. The amendments were the result of considerable amount of lobbying. The events of the last days appear to be unseemly and chaotic, moreover have caused a visceral debate.
It is very regrettable that there has been further delay and now the unleashing of an extraordinary amount of emotionally charged lobbying.
Jersey is a self-determining jurisdiction and we guard our constitutional autonomy but we have been out of step with the many other countries in the western world. It should be recalled that these delays follow a pattern. Jersey had Civil Partnerships since October 2009, whereas in the England had then in 2004.
Whilst same-sex marriages are still not permitted in Northen Ireland they have been passed in England, Scotland and Wales. The Isle of Man and Guernsey has legalised same sex marriage as has the Republic of Ireland.
Same-sex marriage has now been legalised in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Guernsey, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.
So-called ‘conscience clauses’ have not as far as I have been able to ascertain been enacted in any of these countries.
The Jersey Law as proposed does not interfere with the established arrangements for religions or churches. Religious organisations will not be required or compelled to marry same-sex couples. As around the world, if the great religions and faiths of the world do not want marriage Equality within their rules they are not compelled to have it. If some, such as Quakers or Methodists and other governing bodies wished to allow it, they could. And rightly so. They are opt-in arrangements.
Nowhere in the world, however, has an opt-out for the arrangements for Civil Marriages.
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression, including the right to express religious views within the law, is something which I regard as a fundamental human right.
We mark the relevance and importance of these human rights today with the annual commemoration of the Holocaust.
During the Nazi occupation of Jersey during the Second World War, a number of islanders lost their lives. They lost their lives and many more thousands died in the fight against a regime based on an ideology of superiority. A view that perpetrated a mistaken belief that Nazis under the control of Hitler had a right to impose their views. Moreover that their views of Jews, disabled people, homosexuals and many others should be crushed and their views were to be held above all others.
Freedom and equality are paramount for any place that wishes to be known as a democracy, and nothing should undermine this. Moreover, for people of faith to practise their religious beliefs within the bounds of the law should be upheld.
I am writing this blog as a politician, and I enjoy the freedom of speech within a democracy. I am bound by law and exercising my right to speak in writing.
Before attending the States debate next week, I want here to set out my position on the amendment that would give certain people – if adopted – an opt-out from the application of the law.
I want to express in the strongest possible terms I can, that I am against the amendment to the marriage and civil status law to give an opt-out for persons of religious conviction who do not wish to respect what may become the law of Jersey.
This law will permit a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or woman and a woman, to marry, and the proposed amendment will clearly result in a minority group being treated differently to everyone else in the process of celebrating their decision to marry and procuring relevant services from people engaged in commercial activities.
The States decided to pass the law, so there cannot be any case for overriding that law for businesses.
The concept of this law is to provide fairness and equity within our society for anyone wishing to get married. It would be somewhat ironic at best if a clause were included to exclude some elements of equity, and allow situations where people can still discriminate against same sex couples.
In essence, legislating discrimination of a group into an equality law!
Parliaments pass laws, and respect for the law is the basis for, and at the very heart of, a democratic society.
If the States of Jersey passes a law to permit something or to prevent something else i.e. the discrimination of men, women, people of colour, age or whatever, then there cannot be subordinate rights of somebody else to decline to apply that law on the basis of religious, political or philosophical beliefs.
As the only openly gay man in the States of Jersey who has exercised his right to enter into a civil partnership I fully accept that some with certain religious views might not agree with the principle.
However, I do not accept that they have a right to impose their beliefs on others and prevent them from having full access to the commercial services available to others.
If I were to suggest that a florist should be permitted to refuse to provide their commercial services as required for the wedding of an Anglican, Jewish, Catholic,Humanist heterosexual, interracial, non-English speaking couple, there would be outrage.
And rightly so.
Discrimination of all forms is a slippery slope. This proposed clause would lead to the right to put notices in the shop windows of people providing services for the celebration of the marriage to say in their shop window, on their website, or in their recorded telephone message:
‘No gays allowed’
The extension of that is a slippery slope:
• Hotels begin to decline wedding receptions for same sex couples;
• A guest house declining a booking for a same sex couple on the night of their marriage?
• Extending this opt-out for Civil Partnerships?
• Extending the opt-out for anniversaries of same sex couples?
• Would they then accept a subsequent booking from that couple if it weren’t their wedding night and they were married?
Where will this end?
There is no logic to accepting commercial business requests from a married, same-sex couple at any other time, but then refusing any commercial service related to their wedding.
This legislation establishes a definition of marriage into Jersey’s constitution; for some individuals to retain a definition of marriage which is outside the law is their choice, and they would never be forced to marry someone of the same sex!
They cannot, surely, expect that their belief impacts upon the lives of others who do not share it; we are not living in a theocracy.
The protection of minority groups has taken a very long time to enshrine in law; Jersey is already many years behind many countries in establishing such protection.
Do we want a society where people may be asked about their sexuality when enquiring about a service related to a wedding?
Some couples travel to Jersey to hold their wedding ceremony here; I believe that they would be astonished and shocked to be asked about their sexuality before they can arrange services.
This clause would reinforce the perception of ‘The Old Jersey Way’, which more often than not gave an impression – whilst not universally intended — was that some people mattered more than others. Moreover, that the rights of some – mainly minority communities and people who did not have a voice. These people were ‘second-class citizens’ was subordinate to those who were persistently resistant to change.
How can Jersey ever obtain and maintain the respect of the democratic international community if we continue to treat some people in our community as ‘second-class citizens’, whether that is because they are a child or because of their sexuality.
Jersey’s Chief Minister, in whose name the legislation is in, used the following words to describe what should be the modern Jersey Way
broad-minded, open-minded, unprejudiced, unbiased, understanding
kind, humane, thoughtful, considerate
gentle, caring, loving, decent
responsive, thoughtful, kind and proper
responsible, respectful and understanding
The Bailiff of Jersey recently said :
To me, ‘The Jersey Way’ means doing something competently, with integrity, fairly and with compassion. On behalf of all islanders, to the extent I can do so, I reclaim that expression and I encourage you all to use it with its proper meaning and to be forthright in challenging those who do not.
In my view, whilst I accept the absolute right of people to express their views, I believe that a significant number of people in Jersey and who look at Jersey from outside believe that the Corporate Services amendments do not pass these test of fairness and what we should be striving to show as the Jersey Way of today and tomorrow.
I have no hesitation in saying that in my view that we have no choice but to represent in the strongest possible terms that these amendments should be rejected.
In so doing I express the sincere hope that in the interests of fairness, tolerance and respect for the rule of law. And for the good and reputation of our whole community and modern Jersey and I hope that the majority of islanders and members will agree.
Such amendments have no integrity, they are not fair, and show no compassion. To enshrine in law such discrimination would shame Jersey, and is not what I hope the majority of islanders would wish to see us do.
27th January 2018