Saskatchewan Government Considering Religious Exemption For Marriage Commissioners
By Ted Baklinski
REGINA, July 7, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Saskatchewan government intends to introduce legislation allowing provincial marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex "marriages" for religious reasons.
Justice Minister Don Morgan, of the Saskatchewan Party, announced that two versions of the new legislation containing a religious exemption would be presented to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to rule on their constitutionality.
One version of the legislation would provide complete freedom of conscience and religious objection to officiating at same-sex "marriages" for all commissioners.
The other legislative option would see a grandfather clause providing a religious exemption from performing same-sex "marriages" for individuals who were commissioners before homosexual "marriage" was legalized in 2004.
Justice Minister Morgan told the media that his government intends to fulfill its promise to provide a religious exemption to marriage commissioners, and to settle the issue with legislation. This is intended resolve the situation which has seen marriage commissioners sue the provincial government over its insistence that they perform homosexual "marriages."
Morgan said that the Saskatchewan Party had opposed the legalization of same-sex "marriage" while it formed the Opposition, though he confirmed that homosexuals have a right to such civil "marriage" services under Canadian law.
"But we also have rights of people that have deeply held religious beliefs and, if we can accommodate both sets of beliefs or both views within the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) and within our administrative framework, that would be our preferred course," said Morgan. He added that he believes Saskatchewan is the only province that has faced lawsuits from commissioners who are defending their rights of religious freedom and conscience.
In 2008, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal fined Regina marriage commissioner Orville Nichols $2,500 for refusing to "marry" two homosexual men who approached him for the ceremony in 2005.
Mr. Nichols has since appealed that decision to the Court of Queen's Bench, where the judge is reserving his decision until the outcome of the Court of Appeal ruling on the proposed legislation is known.
Two other marriage commissioners are also suing the government over the lack of a religious exemption, according to a report in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
Prince Albert marriage commissioner Bruce Goertzen had filed a human rights complaint in 2005, contending that forcing commissioners to perform same-sex "marriages," or resign their commission, was a violation of human rights. "I don't deny other people have rights too, but when you give one person a right, you shouldn't take a right away from another," he said.
"I contend that this order by the Justice Department discriminates against my freedom of religion and therefore is a violation of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, not to mention a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Goertzen's complaint stated.
Prince Albert lawyer Dale Blenner-Hassett, one of the lawyers representing the marriage commissioners who are suing the government, said the proposed legislation would be a reasonable compromise for those on both sides of the issue.
"It makes room for those who have religious convictions and it provides for them to be people of faith in the public service without being squashed on or forced to do things against their conscience, while at the same time ensuring that those who have different views are accommodated as well," he told the Star Phoenix.
To express your opinion to the Saskatchewan government:
The Honourable Brad Wall
Premier of Saskatchewan
226 Legislative Building
CANADA S4S 0B3
Phone: (306) 787-9433
Fax: (306) 787-0885
E-mail: [email protected]
To contact members of the Saskatchewan Legislature:
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Saskatchewan Marriage Commissioner under Investigation for Unwillingness to Perform Gay 'Marriages'
Saskatchewan Marriage Commissioner Fined For Refusing To "Marry" Homosexuals
Second Saskatchewan Marriage Commissioner Files Human Rights Complaint