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Govt publishes Bill to delete opt-out clause from Marriage Act

Johnny Bugeja

The Gibraltar Government has today published a Bill to delete the section from the Marriage Act that gives the option for a Deputy Registrar to opt out from performing the marriage of a same sex couple.
In a statement, the Government explained that in the three years since the landmark legislation was passed there has never been a single objection by a Deputy Registrar.
“It is therefore felt that this statutory protection in the Marriage Act is no longer necessary,” the Government said.
When legislation legalising same sex marriage in Gibraltar was unanimously passed by Parliament in 2016 it included a provision for Deputy Registrars who did not wish to conduct the marriage of a same sex couple to opt out.
In such cases, however, an alternative registrar was to be assigned to conduct the marriage thereby not affecting the ability of a same sex couple to marry.
The opt-out provision was furiously debated in Parliament at the time as a trio of Opposition MPs objected to it.
Speaking at the time Independent MP, Marlene Hassan Nahon said the Bill “grants concessions to government workers to refuse to discharge their professional responsibilities.”
“I am saddened that a Bill that aims to end discrimination with one hand legitimises it with the other,” she said, adding that she would table an amendment to the Bill at the committee stage.
GSD MP Elliott Phillips said: “In my view those charged by the State for conducting civil marriages cannot simply refuse to perform their public duty because of their beliefs, the marriage registrar and the deputy registrar are public officials and as such they must conduct marriages that are permitted by our laws.”
GSD MP Roy Clinton also echoed those sentiments.
Nonetheless, when the legislation was passed the Government said it felt it was important to provide statutory protection to Deputy Registrars to exercise freedom of conscience.
Minister for Equality, Samantha Sacramento, said: “The amendments to the Marriage Act to allow for the marriage of same sex couples came into effect almost three years ago. During this time, there have been plenty of same sex marriages and there has never been a situation where the protection afforded by section 6B has been required.”
“Taking this into consideration, I now propose that this section be removed from the Marriage Act and I have today published a Bill that would give such an intention effect.”

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