Equal Marriage update

Trans* Jersey met with Chief Minister Ian Gorst on 29 July 2014. In attendance were Senator Paul Routier, Ruth Johnson (Assistant Director, Social Policy), Martin Gavet, Ellie Jones and Pippa McCarthie from Liberate, Emma Poulliquen and Sara Garwood from the LGBTQ liaison team of the States of Jersey Police, Vicki Twohig and Mark Capern from the Youth Service, Christian May from change.je, Dr Elena Mora and Toni Roberts from Jersey Community Relations and Montfort Tadier from the Human Rights Group.

Martin Gavet opened the meeting by presenting a video produced by Liberate (below).

Vic Tanner Davy of Trans* Jersey followed this with a presentation discussing two possible options for same-sex marriage that would provide LGBT islanders with equality. You can download the Powerpoint presentation here.

The presentation started by asking the question, “they’ve got Civil Partnerships, why do they want marriage?”, which is something that has been heard more than once since the debate started. For the trans community, having a single means for two people to marry is really important as it means that divorce is no longer a requirement when someone transitions within a marriage or civil partnership. Having two “streams” (marriage for heterosexual couples and civil partnerships for homosexual couples) does not work.

The term GRC (gender recognition certificate) was explained to the meeting and its significance for trans people. It was pointed out that the state cannot ask a trans person to choose between their right to be married and their right to their GRC.

The presentation suggested two possible solutions: adopting the Scottish model (the Marriage & Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014) or the Union Civile being proposed by Guernsey’s Chief Minister, Jonathan Le Tocq.

The Scottish same-sex marriage law is an improvement on the England & Wales law because it enables couples who are converting from a civil ceremony to a marriage to have a ceremony (in England & Wales you simply get a conversion certificate); it provides a route for gender recognition and converting a civil partnership into a marriage all in one process; it also contains no “spousal veto” clause; and it includes adultery as grounds for divorce (the England & Wales law ignores the possibilities of dissolution by adultery and of non-consummation of a same-sex marriage).

The meeting was informed that this was because the lawmakers could not decide how to define same-sex adultery (or non-consummation) so, rather than change the legal definition of adultery as penetrative sex, they left it out. As both Vic Tanner Davy and Ruth Johnson pointed out, if you can prosecute homosexual rape, you can define what legally constitutes homosexual sex. The meeting was in general agreement that if opposite-sex marriages can be dissolved through adultery or non-consummation so should same-sex marriages because the emotional consequences are just as devastating.

The presentation moved on to look at the proposed Union Civile in more detail. A handout explaining how the law might work and its implications can be downloaded here.

The meeting discussed the implications of the Union Civile for the Anglican church in particular. Both Liberate and Trans* Jersey are sensitive to fact that they would be the religious group most affected by the Union Civile and that its proposal could be seen by some as a first step towards disestablishing the Church of England. Having spoken to church leaders, Liberate and Trans* Jersey know that the Union Civile, although the ideal solution for many, will be a very difficult motion to put through the States.

This is why two solutions were proposed. Although the Scottish model still retains two laws for marriage, it does provide all the non-negotiable elements that we are asking for. The question then becomes, is it wise to pick a battle with the Anglican church, via the Union Civile, that possibly does not need to be had?

Ruth Johnson responded to the presentations and opened the meeting up to further discussion. She informed the meeting that the States are intending to move quickly on this because there is no good reason not to. There will be a public consultation from mid-August to mid-September that will ask the public to comment on a number of options for same-sex marriage. In addition to the two options favoured by Trans* Jersey and Liberate, there will be one that allows for two marriage “streams”, but this time divided between civil marriage and religious marriage, and one that offers civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples as well as marriages to same-sex couples.

The States are endeavouring to encompass a number of matrimonial loose ends in the consultation process, not just same-sex marriage. They also want to know whether opposite-sex couples would like civil partnerships and whether humanists and non-religious groups would like to carry out marriages.

The meeting discussed a number of issues arising from the presentation and from Ruth’s outline. There was no suggestion from those at the meeting that what the States of Jersey are proposing to publicly consult on is in any way inappropriate, although a copy of the consultation document was not available and would not be available until after the Chief Minister had met with religious leaders on 1 August 2014. It was felt by all that Ruth Johnson, in particular, had done an impressive job of understanding the issues and researching the various marriage laws to come up with a number of options.

Following the public consultation, it is anticipated that the Chief Minister will bring a report before the States at the end of September/beginning of October. Liberate and Trans* Jersey both expressed the hope that an educational presentation to States members would be possible as part of the process of bringing draft legislation before the States Chamber in order that the issues for LGBT people could be explained to members and they would have a chance to ask questions. The Chief Minister confirmed that was part of the plan.

The meeting was friendly and open with those present feeling very encouraged by what the States of Jersey are proposing to do regarding enabling every islander to have equality when it comes to marriage.

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2 thoughts on “Equal Marriage update

  1. I would have thought the one glaring omission from the invitees to this meeting was Advocate Paul Matthews,  from the Judicial Greffe who was so helpful to me  in obtaining my Jersey GRC and new birth certificate. Nothing was too much trouble for him, and I am sure he could have bought a lot to the meeting. Just a thought for future meetings. Nicky Renouf

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