A 90-year-old birth registration law that has led to some parents having to "adopt their children" and same-sex couples unable to register a child as theirs will finally be rectified.
Deputy Jennifer Merrett and Alderney Rep Alexander Snowdon laid a successful amendment to the anti-discrimination legislation last week, which calls for a "fair, modern and equitable" approach to issuing birth certificates, which ensures that all families are treated the same.
Historically, that has not been the case, as the current law from the 1930s does not properly acknowledge unmarried couple or same-sex parents, and still includes the concept of "illegitimate" children.
That has led to modern day problems as society has become more inclusive.
"Birth registration laws are complicated," said Deputy Merrett. "In Guernsey, as in many other countries, the birth registration law interacts with other pieces of legislation, relating to parenthood and to the rights of children. Because of that, the States has put this on the 'too hard' pile for too long. It’s time for that to change."
The amendment, which was approved by the States, directs P&R to do a piece of work, with HSC and ESS, to look at all these issues, and to make recommendations for modernising our birth registrations law.
Pictured: The States voted to approve the amendment, which will see the law relating to birth registrations, which is still written in French, updated for the first time in around 90 years.
Deputy Merrett gave some examples of situations in which the current law has caused heartache and despair.
"Our law was written well before the days of IVF. In principle, it requires the biological parents of a child to be registered. For a heterosexual couple, you can imagine, it is straightforward enough to register the actual parents instead.
"That’s not so easy in same-sex relationships, for obvious reasons – so this law hurts a same-sex couple who’ve conceived via IVF, much more than it hurts their heterosexual counterparts who have done exactly the same thing."
"We’re assured that there are alternative legal routes for those who aren’t named as parents on a birth certificate, to be formally recognised as the parent of their child. They can, for example, adopt their own child. Imagine adopting your own child when you have conceived together through IVF. When there is no expectation that the donor would ever have any parental responsibility. When you have loved and parented this child together from the day it was born. Can’t we, as a community, in 2020, imagine a more humane birth registration law, that would allow both parents to be properly and equally recognised from the start?"
This States, by majority, introduced same-sex marriage in Guernsey in 2016, while Alderney's Government introduced it in 2017.
Pictured: Alderney States Member Alex Snowdon seconded the successful amendment.
Deputy Merrett said it was an important turning point for the Bailiwick as an "inclusive, welcoming community".
"However, since then, the fact that the birth registrations law does not recognise same-sex parents has been even harder to come to terms with, for those who are affected by it. There have been an increasing number of complaints to the Greffe about the limitations of the current law, and there are parents in both Islands who are desperate to see this addressed.
"If your relationship is recognised by the State, you naturally believe that your family will also be recognised by the State. It’s heart-breaking for families to discover that this is not the case when they come to register the birth of their child. It can turn a moment filled with joy and love into one of sadness.
"We know that the birth registrations law has been really distressing for some same-sex couples in Alderney and in Guernsey, who can’t be properly registered as the parents of their children. It’s time for that to change. Parents of newborns have contacted us during this term and have asked us to sort this Law out – we are asking the States to do this now."
Pictured top: Deputy Jennifer Merrett.
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