Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Goin' Down Muttering in Regina

A 69-year-old Canadian marriage commissioner (like our JPs) risks being canned instead of obeying the law requiring him to marry same-sex couples. In doing so, he is also stranding 30 straight couples who have arranged weddings with him this year.

...and the Globe and Mail are there.

In a scene that may replicate, particularly in the more rural Western and farther Eastern areas, Orville Nichols is claiming his beliefs prevent him from uniting homosexuals. He also said that if he is relieved of duty, he'll fight in court.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is willing coddle the crotchety in the short term. Recalcitrant solemnizers may be able to find other commissioners to perform their duty in such cases. "One should be able to find a way of accommodating those who for reasons of conscience feel they don't want to perform a same-sex marriage.

Several commissioners have filed complaints about being required to perform same-sex marriages. As with justices of the peace here, theirs is a civil function, legalizing contracts, with no religious duties. Ceremonies may include religious wording, but that is not relevant to the legality of the event. Some Conservatives in the province are huffing and puffing, asking why the government would "trample on the conscience and religious beliefs of Saskatchewan marriage commissioners."

Nichols is in Regina, Saskatchewan (population about 180,000). One of the six commissioners there is willing to solemnize gay marriages. There are also two commissioner vacancies, likely to be filled with candidates willing to obey the law.

Nichols refused to marry a gay couple, who complained to the Human Rights Commission.


Anonymous said...

While I can hold some sympathy for an old timer trying to adjust to a changing world, I get the feeling that this guy is really just trying to provoke a fight. After all he is 69, already past retirement age, so why is he worried about losing his job?

It sounds like BC, Ontario and Quebec have hit on a good compromise, and I have nothing against that particularly in this period of transition. But in the final analysis, I believe that if your salary is being paid by taxpayers, then you have a duty to provide service to all taxpayers without discrimmination.

massmarrier said...

Well, maybe you also have some insight into why the Minister wants to placate someone who would put his thumb in his eye. If you job is to marry people by the law of the province, that seems simple enough. If you refuse to do it, that speaks for itself.

I assume that the Liberals see this issue as still so volatile that they are willing to make short-term accommodations. Is there something else at work?

Anonymous said...

I don't think this is really an "issue" for the Liberals, since it isn't even in their jurisdiction. Marriage commissioners are provincial juridiction so Irwin Cotler can say whatever he wants, but he doesn't have the power to do anything about it.

I think this is a "freebie" for the federal Liberals to score a few points with so-con voters by seeming to be sympathetic without actually having to act on it.

Anonymous said...

Well, the problem is that religious freedoms are protected in the Charter, both in s.15 on the grounds of discrimination and in s.2 as a fundamental freedom. The government may not require Nichols to violate his beliefs or prevent him from expressing those beliefs without violating his rights.

My argument is that s.15 is binding on the government (i.e. it must provide the legally required service) but the law does not grant any citizen the freedom to walk in to a government office, hand pick an employee, and demand that that employee provide the service. All the law requires is that the service be provided by the government. In so far as that service can be provided (as it was - the marriage was performed by a marriage commissioner) in a timely manner then no discrimination by the government occured.
Requiring a person to do something against their Charter protected religious freedoms is discrimination on the part of the government on religious grounds; this is prohibited by s.15. We must not forget that in Corbiere religion is identified as constructively immutable by the Supreme Court; it is not simply a choice.
The government can hire people of various faiths/abilities to cover all of the requirements of the law but it is not required to be sure that every person hired has to do everything.
Now, with respect to Saskatchewan firing commissioners who will not perform same-sex marriages on religious grounds, I would argue that this is constructive discrimination and in violation of s.15 if the person is being forced to violate their religious beliefs in order to keep their job.