A Jersey-based equality charity is warning a proposed ‘tolerance clause’ to protect people with religious beliefs from serving same sex couples products or services for their wedding could heighten tensions in the island.
Politicians will next week debate an amendment to the 2001 Marriage Law put forward by the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel as part of its review of the introduction of same sex marriage, which has so-far only been agreed in principle.
But the charity, Liberate, says its stated intentions are likely to backfire. In a statement alongside an online petition which has attracted around 2,000 signatures, it says: “Rather than reducing discord or stopping business owners with religious convictions from going out of business, as the Scrutiny Panel hopes, their amendment will pit one group of islanders against another the moment that the first same sex couple are denied goods or services for their wedding. And, if that couple also happen to be visitors to the island, what message does that send to the world about Jersey’s credentials as a welcoming place for same sex couples to marry?”
The amendment would protect religious institutions from having to offer their venues as same sex marriage locations but would also allow individuals to withdraw products and services – such as wedding cakes – from same sex couples planning to marry.
Vic Tanner Davy, CEO Liberate, said: “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.”
The panel chairman, Deputy John Le Fondre, said: “Balancing the rights of people to enjoy a family life with the rights of people to live by their religious conviction is no easy task, and is one that has been debated in several other jurisdictions. We have listened to all the arguments for and against implementing a tolerance or conscience clause.”
“We do not take on this subject lightly, and appreciate the concerns of people who have misgivings about its adoption. However, we are concerned about the absence of protections in the Law if a tolerance clause is not adopted, for people who believe they cannot participate in same sex marriage on the basis of their religious conviction.”