Friday, February 5, 2010

A joyous occasion...

Gay rights in Canada are relatively secure at this point. Reasons to cheer are abound when you look at the last 10 years of Canadian homosexual history. We've earned the right to marry, earned the right to adopt. We can start families, grow old together, visit each other in hospitals. Life seems pretty good.

But, every now and then, an event takes place puts any efforts that have been made towards greater equality in jeopardy. In this case, this situation is taking place at home - in Saskatchewan. A trial, in Regina. Where I was born, and have lived my entire life.

Some background information.

In 2008, a local civil marriage commissioner denied a gay couple his services as a individual imbued by the state to perform and legalize civil marriages. His denial was based on his personal moral compass that viewed homosexual marriage as wrong, referencing his religious convictions. He was fined by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal $2500.00 for denying the rights of individuals.

Which sort of brings us to today...

Unfortunately, this isn't half as simple I would like it to be. As an employee of the state, I believe that it is his responsibility to uphold and recognize all the laws of the state, including those with which he disagrees. As such, his denial of marriage to a gay couple because he disagreed with their sexuality is a denial of rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and established by provincial law in 2004 and federal law in 2005. In doing so, he contradicted the proposed ideals of the state, and should be stripped of his right to perform civil marriages ever again.

But, there are other concerns here. Not just for the rights of the gay couple, but also for the rights of the individual (in this case, the Civil Marriage Councillor). His rights, as a follower of a religion, are also guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The rights of other civil employees with similar ideals as his (somehow, only recognized by the state if they are associated with a "religion") are also included in this.

And so, in the upcoming hearings, many different lobby groups have petitioned for involvement - including individuals, provincial organizations, nation-wide organizations, and local religious groups. The provincial government, in attempting to seem relatively unbiased, has appointed lawyers to argue, on behalf of the crown, for both sides of the legal debate.

As an individual, this case concerns me. But I recognize that the same laws that grant me freedom to marry grant civil commissioners the right to deny marriage if they find a marriage to be contrary to their religious beliefs. I do hope that the state finds that marriage commissioners are to shed their personal beliefs when performing their duties as an employee of the state. But I have to, somehow, entertain the reality that there is a justifiable (and complicated) legal argument that suggests that the rights of the individual truncate those of another.

This is complicated. Just as the case currently taking place in California, it will establish an important precedent. And I will watch, and hopefully attend, this case with eyes trained for sympathy, compassion, understanding, and the careful analysis necessary for legal process.


Some Articles

The Leader-Post article previewing the upcoming case.
A second article from the Leader-Post, detailing a bit more about the case.
Also, check out this blog, Slap Upside the Head, for a pointed and humerous understanding of how this entire case has unfolded. Every post references its supporting news articles.

An American article from Slate Magazine about the GOP's use of the "Gay Panic Button."
Another from Slate Magazine about the effects of gay marriage in Scandinavia.


  1. I remember blogging about this case back in August.

    I am surprised that this case is still going on.

    My conclusion is the same: as an agent of the state, a marriage commissioner is not allowed to refuse marrying people based on sexual orientation. If Mr. Orville Nicholas wants to exercise that right, then he can perform marriages for the church.

    I hope you keep updated your readers about this case. I certainly am interested.

  2. Neal,
    It's a sticky situation indeed. The language of rights leads us to some strange places, doesn't it? Additionally, some questions come up here about Christians employed by the state. Anyway, you're perspective is admirable. Keep up the good work.
    I've begun a letter which I hope to send to you shortly.

    - G.R.S.