Marriage Commissioner Reference: Government action required to ensure religious freedom

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January 10, 2011

OTTAWA – The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal released its decision in the Marriage Commissioner Reference today. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) was an intervenor before the court in the case.

In July 2009, the Justice Minister of Saskatchewan asked the Court of Appeal for an opinion on the constitutionality of two potential legislative options which would permit marriage commissioners to decline performing same-sex marriages if contrary to their religious beliefs. One would have permitted marriage commissioners appointed before a certain date to refuse to solemnize a marriage contrary to their religious beliefs and a second that would have allowed any marriage commissioner the same right.

“We are disappointed with the decision,” states Faye Sonier, EFC Legal Counsel. “While the court recognized that a refusal to accommodate the constitutional rights of marriage commissioners would result in a violation of their freedom of religion, it determined that such a violation was necessary in order to ensure the equality rights of gay and lesbian individuals. Marriage commissioners, as agents of the government, cannot in the court's opinion refuse to solemnize marriages contrary to their religious beliefs.”

The EFC intervened in support of the proposed legislation that would have protected and ensured the religious and conscience freedoms of all marriage commissioners.

“The court, however, did propose an alternative. It stated that government practices and policies could be put in place that would ensure that both the constitutional rights of marriage commissioners and the legal rights of couples to access marriage services would be respected,” continues Sonier

“In the decision, the court recounted a discussion from the hearings about a ‘single point entry system’ alternative as a means of accommodating the rights of all parties,” explains Don Hutchinson, EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel. “Under such a system, couples would apply to a central office with an application for marriage services. Based on the information contained in the application, the office would assign a commissioner or a list of commissioners able to provide the services. This simple application process would ensure that the rights and needs of all parties are respected.”

“As this is only a reference, the government is not bound to adopt the court’s opinion. If the decision is made not to appeal, we will urge the government of Saskatchewan and all provincial governments to take measures to ensure that the rights of all citizens, whether they work in the public or private sector, are robustly protected,” continues Hutchinson.

“In this type of situation, the rights of all parties can be accommodated and respected rather than excluding one set of rights in favour of another,” states Sonier. “It is the inclusion of individuals from a wide variety of cultures, beliefs and perspectives in government positions that ensures and communicates that the state is truly committed to a diverse, multicultural society.”

For more information, you can view the EFC's Frequently Asked Question on the Marriage Commissioner Reference document at our blog, ActivateCFPL.theEFC.ca.

For more information contact:
Anita Levesque
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
(613) 233-9868, ext. 325
[email protected] 

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The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians, gathered together for influence, impact and identity in ministry and public witness. Since 1964 the EFC has provided a national forum for Evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society. In addition to 39 evangelical denominations, the EFC affiliates include ministry organizations, educational institutions and individual congregations, who uphold a common statement of faith. The EFC is an active participant in the World Evangelical Alliance.

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