In September 2006 the States Assembly directed the Policy Council to investigate the desirability of enacting legislation to enable people to enter into legally recognised and binding civil unions in Guernsey. Since then, the world has seen a variety of legal recognitions of a couple's commitment and union ranging from what might be termed as forms of traditional heterosexual marriage, religious marriage, non-religious marriage, same-sex marriage, civil partnerships open only to same sex couples; and civil partnerships open to all couples. The existing Guernsey law originated from a time when the government and the established church were closely aligned and it assumes that most couples want a religious ceremony. The Policy Council did not wish to continue to enforce this religious framework on people and wanted to modernise Guernsey's legislation providing a fair and equitable system for all. It believed that government should only concern itself with matters relating to protection of rights, such as inheritance, taxation, benefits, and next-of-kin issues. With that in mind the Policy Council wished to find a system which respects an individual's views and offers freedom of choice. It was the Policy Council's opinion that the status quo, where only opposite-sex couples in Guernsey can have their relationship recognised by the state, should not be maintained.
A consultation, which closed in July 2015, was undertaken. It sought peoples views on Union Civile, which would be separate to any other commitments that the couple might want to make, for instance within their church or religious organisation, but might be undertaken at the same time as any religious union. It would be what the state would look to when considering kinship, next of kin, inheritance, tax and benefits etc. It would then be a personal matter for each individual couple as to whether they wished to seek to celebrate this union through a religious or other service, depending on their beliefs.
At the time, Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq, Guernsey's Chief Minister said:
"The Island has moved on since the 2006 States resolution to such an extent that it would not be right for the Policy Council to stick rigidly to the States resolution without considering all the alternatives. We recognise that legislation in this area has been rapidly changing and developing along with cultural expectations. Today we see globally a variety of legal recognitions of a couple's commitment. However the Policy Council is seeking to find a less complex and more equitable way forward."
"Matters such as sexuality and religion should not be the concern of government - however we do have to protect human rights. Same-sex couples who want their commitment to each other recognised in law currently have to go off Island. Guernsey needs to modernise its legislation so that all couples, whether same sex or opposite sex, religious or not, can have their relationship legally recognised by the state."
"I believe that the States should enable people who are committed to one another and want to formalise their relationship with each other to do so regardless of religious persuasion or sexuality."
Martin Gavet, Chair of Channel Islands equality charity Liberate said:
"We are delighted with the news that the public consultation exercise is to be launched around the introduction of the preferred option of Union Civile in Guernsey. We are also pleased that the Chief Minister intends to lay a report on the subject before the States in the autumn this year."
"We have come a long way since our first meeting with the Chief Minister in May last year and this is significant progress towards our island becoming a fair and equal society, where everyone is treated equally in both dignity and rights. We urge members of the public to have their say, no matter what their views or opinions are on the subject as part of this consultation exercise, but we would very much hope that the majority of islanders will be supportive".
The Policy Council considered it should indicate its preferred option in the consultation and has explained the reasons behind the suggestion for introducing Union Civile. However, it wanted to hear from as many people as possible, regardless of the extent they agree or disagree with any of the options or principles.
The consultation results informed a Policy Letter that was debated by the States in December 2016. The States agreed to the introduction of same-sex marriage and the legislation was then drafted. The draft legislation was submitted for approval by the States in February 2017 and an update on the implementation of the legislation was provided in February 2017.
Updated: February 2017