The Gibraltar Government will today publish a Bill to amend the civil Marriage Act to allow for civil marriage between couples of the same sex.
The Government underscored that the Bill, if it becomes law, will not change the definition of ‘marriage’.
“The definition of ‘Holy Matrimony’, a sacrament of the Catholic Church, or of the respective rites of marriage in the Jewish, Islamic or Hindu religions, is entirely unaffected,” a Government statement read.
“Nothing that is being proposed in this Bill has any bearing on the religious concept of marriage.”
Furthermore, the ministers who are able to administer the rites of religious marriages would be protected by this law, and its interplay with the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the first chapter of the 2006 Constitution, from ever being forced to carry out marriages that were contrary to their religious beliefs.
The Government had paved the way for legalising civil marriage between same sex couples when it issued a command paper on the subject in December 2015.
The Government described the response to that as “overwhelming”, having received 3,490 responses from multi-signatory groups, some by means of petitions and some as individuals.
“The consultation on amending the civil law of marriage proved to be a matter on which there has been an extensive and meaningful engagement with those representing divergent points of views,” the Government said.
The issue had raised controversy in some sections of the community and an inter-ministerial group was set up by the Chief Minister in order to ensure that the Government was able to fully understand all sides of the different arguments which have been presented.
The Government met with representatives from various religious denominations and the draft Bill that was presented at Command Paper stage has been amended to take account of those representations and further safeguards, even beyond those already included in the Command Paper, have been factored into the Bill.
The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: “My Government has – as we always set out to do – seen through our manifesto commitment to publish a Command Paper late last year in order to consider the views of all of the public who wished to become involved in this debate.”
“The response and engagement on this issue has been remarkable. There are broadly two sides to this debate, those in favour of the change and those against.”
“Both sides think that they are so clearly right that the Government should have acted immediately to side with them. Clearly, matters of such controversy require careful consideration and that is why we have wanted to ensure we have consulted as widely as possible and as deeply as we have.”
“Such was the importance of this sensitive subject that I chaired an inter-ministerial committee comprised of four other Ministers so that we could carefully consider the views that were put to us.”
“We have not taken this process lightly and we have treated this clearly important subject matter with the respect that it deserves.”
“Events have overtaken the process slightly and further time was required to undertake meaningful consultation properly. We did not envisage having to deal with an adverse result in the EU referendum in late June when we set our time frame in the manifesto.”
“The process is now complete and we are today publishing this amendment Bill. We have amended the previous draft to incorporate safeguards to those who had expressed concerns to us.”
“I wish to make it clear that this law relates to civil marriage and not to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony or the rites of marriage in any religion. I want to also thank all those who replied to the Command Paper we issued and those who engaged directly with us in the Consultation process. Their input has been greatly valued by me and by all of my colleagues and the Bill we publish today is improved by those discussions. I am particularly happy that this Bill is being published as a Government Bill and not a Private Members Bill.”
“When it comes to be debated in Parliament, every Member should vote their conscience on this Bill as I expect that they should do in respect of all matters. I will certainly not be instructing members of the Parliament on the side of the GSLP-Liberal Government to vote in any particular way on this Bill,” he said.
Minister with responsibility for Equality, Samantha Sacramento, said: “I am proud of the progress that we have made and in particular of the very important process of meaningful engagement that we embarked upon, resulting in the publication of this Bill, which is another major piece of legislation that promotes the principle of equal treatment.”
“The proposed amendments to this legislation do not impose any change in religious marriage or religious beliefs and nothing is affected by the implementation of the proposed legislation. Indeed, we have added additional protection to ensure that there is no doubt in this regard.”
It is envisaged that the Bill will be debated once the six week period of publication, as required by Constitution, has passed.