Saturday, July 04, 2009

VOMC welcomes Saskatchewan government’s proposal to allow commissioners to refuse to marry same-sex couples

The Voice of the Martyrs welcomes the government of Saskatchewan’s decision to propose legislation that would allow provincial marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons.  According to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Justice Minister Don Morgan announced on Friday that the government would refer two versions of new legislation containing a religious exemption to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to rule whether they would conform with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two legislative options will be put to the court, he said. "One would grandfather the existing marriage commissioners that are reluctant or unwilling to perform a same-sex marriage and the second option would grant religious exemption for not only the existing ones, but for future marriage commissioners that would have the same concerns." 

The previous NDP government had told marriage commissioners that they had to marry gay and lesbian couples, regardless of their personal religious beliefs. On May 23, 2008 a Saskatchewan human rights tribunal ruled that marriage commissioner Orville Nichols was guilty under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code of discriminating against a gay couple whom he refused to marry three years ago.  He was ordered to pay $2,500 in compensation to the "couple", who claimed that the refusal was "pretty devastating" to them.  They were later married by another commissioner. Nichols, who has been a marriage commissioner for 25 years, has consistently said that his refusal was based on his religious beliefs. He has since filed a suit in the Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench, claiming the Saskatchewan government is violating the Charter rights of the province's marriage commissioners.

Of the two options that the Saskatchewan government is proposing, the second provides far better protection of religious freedoms in our opinion.  To simply grant existing commissioners their full religious rights is merely a stop gap measure that would not protect the rights of future commissioners who might change their convictions or of citizens who might in the future wish to perform the duties of a marriage commissioner but who would be denied that possibility because of his or her religious views.  Such discrimination is wrong and should be addressed with this legislation.

Please pray as the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal considers these proposals. Why not post a pray to this effect on our new online prayer wall?

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