Saskatchewan

Sask. court to advise on same-sex compromise

Saskatchewan's highest court will rule Monday morning on whether provincial civil marriage commissioners can refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies on religious grounds.
Justice Minister Don Morgan says the legislation seeks to balance the rights of same-sex couples and those of marriage commissioners. ((CBC))
Saskatchewan's highest court will rule Monday morning on whether provincial civil marriage commissioners can refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies on religious grounds.

The province asked the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal for advice on whether proposed legislation allowing commissioners to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages for religious reasons would be constitutional.

As a compromise, the proposed law would compel dissenting commissioners to provide gay or lesbian couples with a referral to a colleague who would conduct the marriage.

The government drafted the compromise in the face of court challenges from all sides of the issue, with each arguing their rights should be paramount.

"What we are trying to achieve is whether we can protect the rights of same-sex couples and also the rights of marriage commissioners without having to pick [one priority] over the other," Justice Minister Don Morgan said.

Whatever the court decides, it will likely become Saskatchewan law, he said.

The decision will be released electronically on the appeals court's website  at 10 a.m. CST.

Gay couple refused service

The issue arose in 2005 when marriage commissioner Orville Nichols, a devout Baptist, told a gay couple he wouldn't marry them because it went against his religious beliefs.

A complaint was taken to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and a tribunal of the commission ruled in May 2008 that Nichols discriminated against the couple.

It found that Nichols was acting as a public servant when he performed marriages and so was obligated to marry the men.

Nichols, who has been a marriage commissioner since 1983, was fined $2,500. He asked the Court of Queen's Bench to reverse the decision, but it upheld the tribunal's ruling in 2009.

With files from the CBC's Cameron McIntosh and The Canadian Press

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