Saskatchewan’s top court has said marriage commissioners cannot use religion to say no to nuptials for same-sex couples.
The Court of Appeal had been asked by the government to rule on a proposed provincial law that would have allowed commissioners to cite religious grounds in refusing to marry gays or lesbians.
The appeal panel’s unanimous decision released on Monday said the law would be unconstitutional and amount to discrimination.
And more from the judge:
“Accordingly, putting gays and lesbians in a situation where a marriage commissioner can refuse to provide his or her services solely because of their sexual orientation would clearly be a retrograde step – a step that would perpetuate disadvantage and involve stereotypes about the worthiness of same-sex unions,” the justice wrote.
Judge Richards rejected suggestions that the number of gay marriages would be small and those affected could simply seek out someone else to perform the ceremony. That would overlook the impact a refusal would have on gay or lesbian couples, he noted.
“As can be easily understood, such effects can be expected to be very significant and genuinely offensive. It is not difficult for most people to imagine the personal hurt involved in a situation where an individual is told by a governmental officer, ‘I won’t help you because you are black (or Asian or First Nations) but someone else will,’ or ‘I won’t help you because you are Jewish (or Muslim or Buddhist) but someone else will,’ ” Judge Richards wrote.
As you might expect, the Human Rights Commission was involved:
The proposed law was crafted after a conflict arose when commissioner Orville Nichols, a devout Baptist, refused to marry a gay couple in 2005.
The two men laid a discrimination complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. The case went before the human rights tribunal, which ruled in 2008 that Mr. Nichols discriminated against the couple. It found that as a public servant he was obligated to marry them once they approached him.
Mr. Nichols, who has been a marriage commissioner for almost 30 years, was fined $2,500.
He asked the Court of Queen’s Bench to reverse the decision, but it upheld the tribunal’s ruling. A further appeal is still before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.
Comments to this post will be strictly filtered in accordance with Barack Obama’s laws restricting free speech on these issues.