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.