Commissioner who refused to marry same-sex couple loses appeal

A Saskatchewan marriage commissioner who refused to marry a same-sex couple has lost his appeal of a human rights ruling.
Orville Nichols, shown in this undated photo taken in Regina, has lost his appeal of a human rights case that ordered him to stop refusing to marry same-sex couples. ((CBC))
A Saskatchewan marriage commissioner who refused to marry a same-sex couple has lost his appeal of a human rights ruling.

Orville Nichols was approached by a gay man who wanted to get married in 2005 . At first, Nichols congratulated the man, identified in court documents only as "M.J."

When M.J. told Nichols his partner was another man, Nichols told M.J. he wouldn't do the ceremony because gay marriage is against his religious beliefs.

M.J. filed a human rights complaint, which was heard in 2007.

A tribunal set up by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that Nichols did not have the right to refuse service based on his personal beliefs, and ordered him to pay M.J. $2,500 in compensation.

Nichols appealed that ruling, arguing that his religious beliefs should be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But in a 39-page decision dated July 17, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Janet McMurty dismissed Nichols' argument, concluding that the human rights tribunal was "correct in its finding that the commission had established discrimination and that accommodation of Mr. Nichols' religious beliefs was not required."

'God hates homosexuality'

At the human rights hearing in 2007, M.J. testified that although he and his partner were married by another commissioner, he was devastated by Nichols' reaction.

Nichols testified that although he doesn't object to gays and lesbians getting married, he did not want to perform the ceremony.

He told the tribunal that the Bible directs him to believe that "God hates homosexuality."

Nichols, who used to work for the Regina Police Service, has been acting as a marriage commissioner since 1983.

He launched his own human rights complaint in 2005, months before he even met M.J., alleging that his religious freedoms would be violated should he be asked to marry same-sex couples. That complaint was dismissed by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in 2006.

Human Rights Commission pleased

The Court of Queen's Bench decision was praised Thursday by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

"To allow a public official to insert their personal beliefs into decisions about who should and who should not receive a public service would undermine the protection of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code," said Human Rights Commission manager Rebecca McLellan.

CBC News contacted Nichols Thursday, but he refused comment. His lawyers were not immediately available for comment Thursday.