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Conflict between marriage commissioner &
same-sex couple in Saskatchewan, Canada

Complaint filed. Testimonies.
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Complaint filed:

"M.J." filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal on 2005-APR-25, about five months after same-sex marriage (SSM) became legalized in the province.

Orville Nichols, a marriage commissioner, is the respondent. The complaint stated:

"I am a male person and I am gay. Orville Nichols is a marriage commissioner in and for the Province of Saskatchewan. On April 18, 2005, I telephoned Mr. Nichols to arrange a marriage ceremony. He confirmed a date on which he could perform the marriage ceremony. He asked for the name of my partner, when I gave him a male name, he paused and asked if it was a same-sex marriage. I confirmed it was. Mr. Nichols said he could not perform this service due to his own beliefs. I believe by denying me a service which is offered to the public, I have been discriminated against because of my sexual orientation, contrary to Section 12 of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code."
"M.J. might well have a bisexual, not homosexual, orientation. In the past, he had been married to a woman for about 17 years, had three children, and then divorced.


Testimonies before the tribunal by the complainant and respondent:

"M.J." testified that a newspaper contacted him and informed him that an elected official in Saskatoon was outing him and his partner "B.R." He later found that their names also appeared on other religious web sites.

From the tribunal report:

"M.J. indicated that the denial of service by the Respondent was pretty devastating. He stated that he was the type of person that took things personally and that he was very involved in trying to make sure that he was politically correct. Accordingly, M.J. was quite devastated and crushed about the Respondent's refusal of service. He indicated that he had trouble speaking as he could not believe that as a human being he was not going to be treated as a real person. He stated that he was raised as a Roman Catholic and since they could not get married as a gay couple in a Roman Catholic Church, they did not have anywhere else to go. ... M.J. acknowledged that the Respondent was entitled to hold his beliefs against same-sex marriage, however the Respondent's personal beliefs should not have impacted on his duties as a marriage commissioner. ... He stated that he was pretty shocked and quite dumbfounded with the Respondent's position, as the Respondent was not prepared to do his job based on his own discriminatory views."

Actually, MJ is incorrect. He and his partner could have gone to a United Church or Unitarian Church minister who would probably have married the couple.

Commissioner Nichols was 70 years of age at the time of the hearing and had been a marriage commissioner continuously since 1983. During that time, he had married more than 1,800 couples. He had attended the Faith Baptist Church in Regina since 1988. This is a congregation affiliated with the North American Baptist Association.

From the report:
Nichols "... testified that his faith took first place in his life. In day to day terms he indicated that this meant praying and reading the Bible on a daily basis. He described his faith as a fundamental facet of his every day life. He testified that he lived his life according to his duty as a Christian with the Bible as his guidebook. He stated that for various situations in life he relied on the Bible and various passages to help him out. He viewed the Bible as the inspired work of God. He testified that he attended church regularly every Sunday. He did so to practice his faith and for spiritual growth."

"... Nichols stated that his religious upbringing and his religious beliefs did not allow him to perform same sex marriages. He testified that he did not have a problem with same sex couples getting married, but he just could not in all good conscience perform the marriage ceremony. Nichols testified that the Bible stated that God hated homosexuality. God also stated that man shall not sleep with man and woman with woman. He indicated that these were the particular provisions of the Bible that he relied upon to refuse to perform same sex marriages as being contrary to his religious beliefs. He testified that his Church also had a doctrine whereby they would not perform same sex marriages. ... He testified that he would not be able to sleep or live with himself if he did perform a same sex marriage. ... He further testified that if same sex marriages had been in effect in 1983, he would not have accepted a marriage commissioner's appointment. ... Nichols testified that it had never been his intention to offend either the Complainant or his partner. He acknowledged that he had not taken any steps to contact them personally to advise that it was not his intention to offend them, however he did indicate that on his instructions, his counsel had extended an apology in the response that had been filed on his behalf to the Complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. ... He then stated that the position in the Bible was that God hated homosexuality. When asked if there was a distinction between hating homosexuals and hating homosexuality, he responded that he did not know if there was any distinction. ... He confirmed that sexual orientation was the only protected ground under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code on the basis of which he would decline to perform a marriage ceremony. ... Nichols indicated that prior to the government making a decision about same sex marriage, he tried to lobby the government to allow marriage commissioners to have a choice. ... According to Nichols, there should have been a grandfather provision which applied to exempt him from performing same sex marriages. ... Nichols reiterated his position that he was not about to resign and that he intended to continue performing marriage ceremonies in the future for heterosexual couples only. "
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Expert testimony:

Dr. Bryan V. Hillis testified as an expert on religious beliefs and attitudes about SSM. From the tribunal report:
"Dr. Hills testified that the main arguments in support of disapproval of same sex marriage followed along four main categories. The first was sort of a theological argument which harkened back to Biblical passages. The second were arguments on the basis of procreation, child rearing, and heterosexual complementarity. This was the idea that God made a man and a woman to procreate and therefore that was the basis of what a marriage should be. The third main category was that marriage as an historic institution which consisted of opposite sex couples. The fourth main category was that if we did not maintain the sanctity of heterosexual marriage we would have great moral and social discord resulting. ...  Dr. Hillis stated that there were 3 churches in Canada that accepted and celebrated same sex marriages. The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Unitarian Council. He stated that these were 3 Christian denominations that accepted and celebrated same sex marriages. Dr. Hillis stated that theology was constantly evolving and that is what he studied and what he taught. In his view we were going to see more mainline Christian denominations accepting at least same sex unions and blessing those same sex unions and probably even performing same sex marriages. However in his view, there would always be some sector of Christian denominationalism that would not sanction same sex marriage for the same reason that certain Christian denominations still did not allow female clergy. "

We find it surprising that an expert in religious beliefs about SSM would classify the Unitarian faith as Christian.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "M.J. v. Nichols," Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal, 2008-MAY-23, at: http://www.saskhrt.ca/
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 Home > LGBT > Same-sex marriage > Canada > Saskatchewan > Commissioner . here

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Copyright © 2004 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-OCT-11
Latest update: 2011-FEB-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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