REGINA, Saskatchewan, January 10, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal declared this morning that proposed legislative amendments that would have allowed Saskatchewan’s marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex “marriages” on religious grounds are unconstitutional.

The Saskatchewan government had proposed two potential legislative options to deal with situations where some marriage commissioners were called before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission or the Courts for refusing to perform same-sex “marriages”: one amendment would have permitted marriage commissioners appointed before November 5, 2004 to refuse to solemnize a marriage contrary to their religious beliefs, and a second would have allowed any marriage commissioner, no matter when they were appointed, the same right.

The court said that its decision was based on section 15(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which prohibits discrimination based on characteristics such as race and sex.  Though the Charter makes no mention of sexual orientation, the courts have nevertheless read sexual orientation into this section.  The court said that a law empowering marriage commissioners to deny their services to homosexual individuals would violate section 15(1) as it would treat them differently than other people and would do so in a discriminatory fashion based on their sexual orientation.

The amendments, said the court, quoting the Supreme Court of Canada, would send “a strong and sinister message” that “gays and lesbians are less worthy of protection as individuals in Canada’s society.”

The Court claimed that allowing marriage commissioners to withhold their services because of personal religious convictions would undercut the fundamental principle that government services must be provided to all members of the public on an impartial and non-discriminatory basis.

“We are disappointed with the decision,” said Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, who intervened in the case. “While the court recognized that a refusal to accommodate the constitutional rights of marriage commissioners would result in a violation of their freedom of religion, it determined that such a violation was necessary in order to ensure the equality rights of gay and lesbian individuals.”

In a press release on Friday in anticipation of today’s ruling, Sonier had said that “to argue that only citizens working in the private or non-profit sectors have Charter protections is ludicrous and contrary to our human rights and employment law.”

“Canadian case law is clear - regardless of where you work in our nation, you have constitutional rights as enshrined in the Charter.”

Gwendolyn Landolt, National Vice President of REAL Women of Canada, csaid that the decision is another example of activist judges using the Charter of Rights as a weapon to undermine religious rights.

“What we are seeing now is that step by step religious rights in Canada have been diminished while homosexual rights have been accelerated by the appointed unaccountable judges,” Landolt told LifeSiteNews.com. “This decision means that religious rights have been pushed to the side once again in favour of judge-made homosexual rights. If there were genuine equality between these two competing rights, then both should have equal recognition under the law which has been denied by this decision.”

“Canada has suffered a severe loss to its collective rights and identity today,” said Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) Executive Director and General Legal Counsel Ruth Ross, in a press release.

“The interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in this Reference does not promote diversity and tolerance, nor does it extend freedom equally to all Canadians. Instead, it creates a hierarchy of citizenship whereby greater protection is extended to those whose thoughts and beliefs are generally accepted within society. The proposed legislation adequately balanced the interests of all parties, ensuring that same-sex couples had access to marriage, and that marriage commissioners had protection for their religious beliefs. It is disappointing the Court did not see the wisdom in this balanced approach.”

The full text of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling is available here.