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Orville Nichols, a Saskatchewan civil marriage commissioner, has lost his anti-gay appeal of an earlier ruling by the provincial Human Rights Commission. Nichols was fined $2,500 in 2007 for refusing to perform his public services for a gay couple. He then fought the ruling in court, arguing that his private religious beliefs entitle him to discriminate and refuse public, non-religious services to gay people. A non-religious violation, if you will.
Civil marriage commissioners are licensed by the government to conduct marriage ceremonies for couples that do not wish to have a religious wedding. Since the ceremonies are secular and commissioners aren’t representatives of their private religious beliefs, they are subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else.
So, consequently, he lost his appeal… Not that he had much of it to begin with. Snap!
Orville Nichols, a civil marriage commissioner from Saskatchewan, is suing the provincial government over a requirement to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Nichols was fined $2,500 last May for refusing to perform a marriage for a couple because they were gay. Nichols now says that the province is violating his religious beliefs and that he should be allowed to deny his services to whomever he pleases, adding that the province’s requirement to serve everyone equally is an icy, icy, all ’round super treacherous slope. His lawer, Philip Fourle, explains:
What is next? Will the government be invading churches with their laws and forcing pastors and ministers and priests in churches to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies?
Ah, yes. Ever since I was a wee lad, I always imagined my special wedding day being held in a church that thinks I’m a horrible, horrible sinner—priest nervously presiding over us at gunpoint… government agents standing cross-armed by the newly kicked-in cathedral door. But that’s not terrifically likely.
See, religious institutions are exempt from Canada’s Charter of Rights, and may deny services to whomever they wish. Many religions refuse to wed inter-faith couples unless one converts, and are well within their legal rights to do so. Likewise, churches are not required to marry same-sex couples.
But here’s the thing: A civil marriage commissioner is acting on behalf of the state. Nichols is not an ambassador of his religion and he may not deny his public service to anyone based on their religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.
So, basically, if this case succeeds, that means I also get to deny my services to whomever I want. So watch out, Bluetooth headset users! Your day is coming.
- Saskatchewan government sued over same-sex marriage rites [National Post]
- Marriage official sues Sask. government over same-sex unions [Edmonton Journal]
Orville Nichols, a civil marriage commissioner from Saskatchewan, is going to appeal a $2,500 fine he received for refusing to do his job for a gay couple. Nichols claims that performing a non-religious, civil marriage for the gay couple violated his religious beliefs.
Marilou McPhedran, the Chief Commissioner of Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Commission explained the case matter-of-factly:
To allow public officials to insert their personal morality when determining who should and who should not receive the benefit of law undermines human rights in Saskatchewan beyond the issue of same-sex marriages.
Succinctly and correctly put.
Nichols’ services are on behalf of the government, not his church. Religious officials acting within their own church are free to decide to whom they provide services (many churches refuse to marry inter-faith couples, for example), but it is not correct to claim this freedom applies to followers performing their public duties. Frankly, I think it’s a stretch to claim that one’s religious beliefs forbid anyone from interacting with same-sex couples at their job in the first place.