Wedding businesses ‘should be able to say no to gays’

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This week the States Assembly is due to debate proposals from Chief Minister Ian Gorst to formally approve same-sex marriage.

Within the minister’s proposals, provisions are made that would allow a clergyman to refuse to perform or officiate a same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

However, the Rev Martyn Shea, chairman of the Jersey Evangelical Alliance, has said that ‘conscience clauses’ should be included within marriage laws which 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.

And he says that changes should be made to the discrimination law which would protect employers from legal proceedings should they make a decision regarding the hiring or firing of an employee on religious grounds.

Mr Shea has written to the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel – which has already indicated that it will review the proposed same-sex marriage legislation because of concerns about its wording and the number of amendments that have been lodged – arguing that religious Islanders needed better protection from the law should they object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

He said that he was not trying to halt or delay the legislation from coming into force, but said that businesses and performers needed protection, as they could face prosecution and a £10,000 fine under discrimination laws should they refuse to take part in the ceremony.

Mr Shea said: ‘We seek to build a community in Jersey where mutual respect and tolerance, freedom of expression and freedom of religion are upheld, and we need to be especially careful when we ask individuals or organisations to act in a way that goes against their conscience or their faith.

‘We have had a number of Christian photographers, professional musicians and organists who have raised with us their growing concern that if they were to turn down an invitation to play at a same-sex marriage they could face a fine or a charge of discrimination.’

He added that as well as marriage clauses, Christian teachers and social workers had raised concerns about being able to express their views on marriage and the use of buildings and community centres for functions such as same-sex wedding receptions.

The JEA represents 17 member churches and Mr Shea said that concerns were shared by a number of other religious groups in the Island.

A memo from the Christian Legal Centre has also been sent to several politicians which suggests changing the proposals. The memo also states that a conscience clause should also be written into the law regarding fostering, adding that a child has the ‘right to be raised by a mother and a father’.

Deputy Sam Mézec, the chairman of Reform Jersey, said that the memo makes ‘homophobic claims’ about gay people and that the document was attempting to persuade States Members to allow discrimination against same-sex couples.

He said: ‘Their document makes the usual homophobic claims that gay people are a danger to children and claims that the equality agenda is the proliferation of sexual-orientation privileges.

‘These people do not represent the vast majority of religious people I know, who are completely committed to equality for gay people, and whose faith inspires them to work to help vulnerable people both in Jersey and abroad, and doesn’t inspire them to go out of their way to argue for institutional discrimination against others.

‘I’m confident that the States will get round to introducing same-sex marriage sooner rather than later, and those who struggle to contain their indignation at the idea of decent and hard-working gay couples getting to be happy like the rest of us will just have to get over it.’

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