Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saskatchewa Court of Appeal to rule on constitutionality of proposed exemption for marriage commissioners with religious objection to gay marriages

07/04/09 The Star Phoenix (Gay Marriage Watch):

The government of Canada's Saskatchewa province has proposed legislation that would confer exemption on marriage counselors who refuse to perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons. (Prince Edward Island is reported to be the only province that has this kind of religious-liberty exemption, while other provinces informally allow these counselors to "opt out.") The legislation would ensure that other commissioners are still available to perform these marriages. The government has asked the provincial Court of Appeal to rule on the constitutionality of the legislation, and will not introduce it until the Court has issued a ruling.

The Star Phoenix reports that the government defends the proposal as a means to settle an issue that has been the subject of litigation:

In 2008, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal fined a Regina marriage commissioner $2,500, ruling he had violated the province's human rights code by refusing to marry a gay couple for religious reasons. That case is under appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench, with the judge reserving his decision, while two other marriage commissioners are also suing the government over the lack of a religious exemption.

Widener University law professor John Culhane has explained why he thinks it is "a bad idea" to exempt marriage-licensing officials who would otherwise have a legal duty to issue marriage-licenses. He considers an unqualified exemption a form of state-sanctioned discrimination that protection of religious freedom can not justify, but would support an informal, administrative arrangement that allowed such officials to "opt out." Kelly Ries, co-chair of the Saskatoon Diversity Network, also faults the proposed legislation as unjustifiably discriminatory:

"I don't think the gay community is prepared to say, 'We're prepared to be discriminated against.' We fought long and hard not to be, we fought long and hard to have a place at the table with everyone else.

07/11/09 Globe and Mail editorial:
This is not, really, about a clash between the religious freedom of marriage commissioners and the rights of gays. Public officials have no right to decline to do their core duties because of religious belief. A public school teacher cannot refuse to teach sex education because of religious objections. A library worker cannot refuse to sign out books that violate her belief system.

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