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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Canada

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Resolving conflict: marriage commissioners
vs same-sex marriage in Saskatchewan

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Background:

On 2005-JUL-20, federal bill C-38 was signed into law. Same-sex marriages (SSM) became available, in theory, to all loving committed couples in every province and territory across Canada.

Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have traditionally been the provinces most resistant to the concept of equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBTs). It was almost inevitable that if any problems were to surface with SSM, that they would occur in one or more of these three provinces.

The first bump in the road occurred in Prince Edward Island on Canada's east coast. The provincial government initially refused to follow the new federal law. Faced with a lawsuit being launched by a lesbian couple who wanted to get married in PEI, they capitulated. On 2005-AUG-19, government officials found a way to obey the revised marriage law of Canada; the couple were married.

The second bump involved marriage commissioners in Saskatchewan, Canada -- the topic of this section. These are almost 400 individuals who are authorized by the province to conduct marriage ceremonies for a fee. During 2005, a same-sex couple searched out a list of marriage commissioner in their area, and selected Orville Nichols. He had been a marriage commissioner for almost three decades and is a devout Baptist. During a telephone conversation, he refused to marry the couple because they are of the same gender. To do so would violate his religious beliefs concerning homosexuality.

This refusal upset the couple to the point that they launched a complaint in the provincial human rights tribunal. This later triggered a court request by the government to determine whether commissioners could be allowed to deny marriage to a couple with a valid marriage license if the commissioner didn't want to marry them because of religious beliefs. The court ruled that such an arrangement would be unconstitutional because it would violate the rights of same-sex couples to equal treatment by their government.

About 1% of the existing marriage commissioners are expected to resign or be fired because they are unwilling to meet this employment requirement.

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The core question:

There is a general consensus in Canada that individuals are guaranteed a group of religious freedoms by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They include the freedom:

  • To believe as one wishes.
  • To join with others to conduct religious rituals.
  • To spread their belief to others, as long as it does not amount to harassment.

There is a near consensus that parents should not have the right to withhold vital medical care from their children -- on the basis of the parent's religions -- interventions that would save the child's life. But there is no consensus on whether an individual should be free to discriminate against others on the basis of the person's religious beliefs,

Almost all Canadians would agree that a marriage commissioner should not have the freedom to pick and choose which couples he will agree to marry in a civil ceremony by excluding, say, all interracial couples, and/or interfaith couples. The former is simple racism; the latter is religism -- an form of bigotry similar to racism but based on religious hatred.

Among some faith groups, the concept of religious freedom is changing to include the right of their members to -- because of their religious beliefs -- actively discriminate against women and minorities. The victims of this discrimination are often lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons (LGBTs). Some feel that such discrimination is ethical and beneficial to society; others view it as bigotry, based on irrational hatred, and to be despised. Hopefully, this case involving marriage commissioners in Saskachewan will help harmonize Canadian opinion.

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Topics covered in this section:

Site navigation:
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality> SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada> here

Home > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

 

Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JAN-30
Latest update: 2011-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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