Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You That Power

June 25th, 2010

A man riding a giraffe shoots octopi at pedestrians, shouting 'Stand aside, for I have religious freedom!'

Will Goertzen, a landlord in Yellowknife, signed a one-year apartment lease for a young gay couple last year. Three weeks before the couple was set to move in, Goertzen discovered they were gay. He re-listed the property without notifying the couple, rented it to a different family, stole the couple’s $1,150 damage deposit, and left them for homeless.

Scott Robertson and Richard Anthony had to stay with various friends and keep all of their belongings scattered about different locations until they secured a new apartment. They got their damage deposit back only after taking Goertzen to rental court. Now the case is before the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission.

Astonishingly, Goertzen is outright admitting that he denied housing, stole the damage deposit, and left the couple homeless because they were gay, saying that he recognizes the “supremacy of God over the Charter or Rights and Freedoms.”  ”[Homosexuality] isn’t natural and it’s a crime against nature,” Goertzen told an adjudicator at a human rights commission last week, “I can definitely not have a part in it.”

Religious freedoms exist in Canada, but all that means is that the government cannot dictate which deity or deities you are allowed to worship; it does not—and has never—granted the power to circumvent Canada’s laws or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Both of which, indeed, explicitly forbid housing discrimination based on sexual orientation).

I’m not surprised some people are under a different impression, mind you. Saskatchewan has proposed a law that lets civil marriage commissioners refuse their public services for gay couples, and Alberta has just enacted a law that forces teachers to halt any discussions of sexual orientation until they receive parental permission from each parent, lest it offend their personal religious beliefs. Religious freedom is fast becoming a convenient carte blanche; a way to eschew personal responsibility, ignore or erase the rights of gay people, and nullify Canada’s guarantees of equality. Goertzen’s despicable behaviour is just a natural extension of this.

It’s time for mainstream religious people who realize that what Goertzen has done is wrong both in the legal and moral sense to stand up and say this is not acceptable.

Or, if this whole thing turns out differently, I could just start a religion of my own…

(Huge hat tip goes to Jason over at The Gay White North for the story.)