Saskatchewan Court: Marriage Officials Can’t Refuse Gays Based On Religious Beliefs

And now we have the much-anticipated ruling out of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Canada: Government officials cannot refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses to gay couples simply because of their religious beliefs. But does the ruling hold any weight?

The case, which has been lingering before the court since May, centers around a proposed law that would allow marriage commissioners to refuse certificates to gay couples if their Bible-thumping called for it. It arose after Commissioner Orville Nichols (pictured_, “a devout Baptist,” insisted he was morally obligated to turn away gays when in 2005 he told a gay man identified only as M.J. that he wouldn’t perform the ceremony. (M.J. in 2009 filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, which ruled in his favor, and ordered Nichols to pay a $2,500 fine. Nichols appealed, and lost again.)

The Saskatchewan Province asked the state’s highest court to see whether the law would be constitutional. The five-judge panel replied, unanimously: No, it wouldn’t be.

But does their ruling hold the force of law? Not quite:

The court was asked to wade into the contentious legal territory by the provincial government, seeking advice on two versions of a proposed law. It’s the first time in 20 years the province has used the Constitutional Questions Act to seek an opinion from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, the last being in 1990 on electoral boundaries. Whyte explained that reference cases are advisory, so the province isn’t technically legally bound to follow the court’s advice. But he noted that from a more practical standpoint, such advice is often followed.

So while the court’s opinion doesn’t mean lawmakers are barred from passing the law, it does indicate that any court challenge to the law brought by a gay couple would very likely be successful in killing it.

And the reasoning goes like this: government officials are there to serve the people, and must follow the law like anybody else. They don’t get to haphazardly discriminate against certain types of people because they read a fiction book with a cross on the cover.

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  • Cam

    That man is responsible to do the job he was hired to do, not use his job as a platform to prostylityze. If a waitress in a steakhouse refused to serve meat because she was a vegitarian there would be no question about firing her.

  • Qjersey

    What is it with these people who want to impose their beliefs on citizens through their government jobs? Go work for your church already.

  • Josh in OR

    @Qjersey: It’s a deliberate strategy. At the Christianist high school that I attended (quite against my will, I assure you) in the early 90’s, we were regularly encouraged to seek out careers in local government, pharmacies, schools, the military, the police force, and pretty much any public service job so that we could “bring our faith back to the fore” by taking over these areas and forcing our faith on everyone else. It is a deliberate and extremely un-Christ-like thing to do, but then, those who advocate and do such things aren’t really Christians, they’re Christianists, worshipping not Christ, but the idea of being a Christian.

  • Franky

    You have a government job, suck it up and serve the people you are paid to serve or use your free will and quit. How are the northern provinces not caught up with gay marriage laws in this country yet?

  • Holla

    @Franky: While I agree with the ruling and the judges’ reasoning, it is important to recognize that marriage commissioners are not paid by the province, rather they are licensed and registered by the province to perform civil marriages. They receive payment from the couples and are listed on a government website. This does, as the court says, make them function as public servants in relation to marriage, however they do not have a “government job.” And Saskatchewan (which is not a “northern” province) has legalized same-sex marriage, just like every other province and territory in Canada, they simply had to deal with this particular issue first because of Nichols’ refusal to perform the wedding in 2005.

  • Jeffree

    If the fundies are doing this in Canada, their co-religionists here in the US can’t be far behind.

    @Josh in OR. Thanks for the insight. When my cousin was in pharmacy school a huge debate erupted over the issue of dispensing contraceptives/Plan B. The objections were all on religious grounds.

  • Mike

    Saskatchewan should have done what Manitoba did a few years ago which was tell the marriage commissioners if they refuse to marry same-sex couples, they’ll be fired.

  • Skeezix

    Not to be too much of a stickler, but the proposed law wouldn’t “allow marriage commissioners to refuse certificates to gay couples if their Bible-thumping called for it”. The law would have allowed commissioners the right to refrain from participating in the officiation same-sex marriages (so other commissioners would presumably have handled same-sex ceremonies) – it would not have given any commissioners the right to refuse certificates to any couples.

  • Pete

    @Qjersey: Actually he belongs to the private sector and here we have, once again, faggots using the government to impose their worldview on others.

    Go work in the gaybar or hollywood and leave us alone already.

  • Soupy

    Pete, you got turned down by another guy again, didn’t you?

  • Jeff K.

    It’s like those Catholic pharmacists who refused to dispense contraceptives. If you don’t want to do your job, find another.

  • CarlCA

    @Pete: Pete is the hilarious site troll who uses various names. In the Arizona hero story of David Hernandez, he said our sexuality should never be discussed, in another thread he used funny lil’ gay slurs, and here he’s at it again. Oh you comic relief you. I love site trolls because they’re anger is so prominent you can just tell amidst masturbating to gay ads on the right, they are infuriated by gay oriented topics on the page. :)

  • Yettamax

    Can we just rid ourselves from all over zealous religious nut jobs at EVERY job? I’m talking about government down to Dairy Queen. Zealots need to stay in their own circles.

  • Jaroslaw

    The stupidest thing of all – these Christianists – I like that term – don’t realize they are doing more harm than good. So I say keep doing it. Unfortunate for the people on the receiving end, but ultimately I think they will annoy enough people and major change for equality will occur.

  • JM

    @Frank “northern provinces”? Canada has northern *territories*, and saskatchewan is very much a central/prairie *province*. Sorry, I’m a stickler for geography when it comes to my country :)

    And why does the article mention the “state’s highest court”? wtf?!

    Good for the *province’s* highest court, though. This guys sounds like a jackass.

Comments are closed.