Liberate members welcome the decision of the States of Guernsey to fly the rainbow flag. Left: Jonathan Le Tocq, Guernsey’s chief minister; 2nd left: Martin Gavet, chair of Liberate and Prospect member. Photo: Guernsey Press
Unions hail good news on marriage equality in the Channel Islands
Last week, the chief minister in the island of Jersey reported that legislation for same sex marriage would be introduced shortly in the States of Jersey with a view to it being brought into effect in 2017. Senator Gorst’s announcement received substantial publicity in the island’s media. This achievement was a result of campaigning by local LGBT activists and the TUC is proud that their work was fully supported by trade unions.
It may come as a surprise to many that the Channel Islands – Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey and Sark – do not have the same laws as Britain, but they don’t. Forming the last remnants of the duchy of Normandy left in the hands of the British crown in 1204, they have always retained a high level of independence as crown dependencies including their own parliaments and right to law-making. Nor are they part of the EU and subject to EU law, including its anti-discrimination legislation that underpins LGBT equal rights in much of the continent.
As a result, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people on the islands face a range of inequalities in their lives, and these inequalities differ as well between the two main islands, Guernsey and Jersey, whose local rivalry matches that of any near neighbour anywhere. In Guernsey, the age of consent was only equalised in 2010. In Jersey, civil partnership was established in 2012 but as yet anti-discrimination law does not cover sexual orientation. There is no protection on grounds of gender identity.
It was on the initiative of a local trade unionist, Prospect member Martin Gavet that a motion calling for TUC support for a campaign for equality was brought to the TUC LGBT conference in 2013. We were delighted to convene a meeting of unions that organise there and to welcome the creation of the first LGBT campaign in the islands, called Liberate, with Martin as chair.
Liberate did much effective lobbying and met with politicians in both Guernsey and Jersey. It established an online petition and spoke to the islands’ media. A deputy in the States of Jersey introduced a proposition calling for the introduction of equal marriage at the end of May. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady wrote to senator Gorst in June to add the TUC’s voice to the campaign, and, following consultations, the chief minister has now promised the legislation to make this a reality.
The TUC salutes the work of Liberate and is delighted that trade unionists have played their full part in achieving this breakthrough: just as trade unionists do in so many struggles for human rights and social justice, too often unrecognised in the media as others rush to claim the credit. The Liberate website is at www.liberate.gg. where there is also a link to the petition calling for anti-discrimination legislation in Guernsey.
Coming in the same week as the parliament in Finland voted to extend the right to get married to lesbian, gay or bisexual couples, this is a big step for us to celebrate.