A Saskatchewan court has determined that, regardless of personal religious beliefs, civil commissioners in the province must marry gay couples when asked to do so.
Following proposed legislation that would allow provincial officials the right to refuse to perform marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal was asked to rule on whether the very idea of such amendments would be constitutional.
The court found that civil ceremonies free of religious implication are exactly that: free of the influence of religion.
The court also found that people who assume roles in public offices are bound to the rules governing those offices.
"Persons who voluntarily choose to assume an office, like that of a marriage commissioner, cannot expect to directly shape the office's intersection with the public so as to make it conform with their personal religious or other beliefs," the court wrote in its decision.
"In our tradition, the apparatus of the state serves everyone equally without providing better, poorer or different services to one individual compared to another by making distinctions on the basis of factors like race, religion or gender."
To allow civil commissioners to refuse to perform marriages solely on their personal religious grounds, the court ruled, "would violate the equality rights of gay and lesbian individuals."
I think the Court has made the correct decision here. The marriage commissioners involved in the case were not asked to perform a religious marriage ceremony in a private church, but to officiate at a civil ceremony in a public place. The laws of Canada say that it is legal for gay couples to marry - if a functionary of the state cannot in good conscience enforce the law, then he should resign his position.
I fully support allowing churches and religious organizations to refuse to perform gay marriages - after all, churches are private organizations(although their tax-exempt status implies a level of state support). Membership in a church is voluntary; no one is forced to belong and members are free to leave if they disagree with a point of doctrine.
However, citizenship is not voluntary - citizens are obligated to obey the constitutional laws enacted by duly elected representatives. One cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce and which to refuse.
No sensible gay couple wants to force reluctant or hostile churches to perform their marriages, but gay couples who wish to marry have only one legal alternative to a religious wedding - a civil ceremony performed by a non-religious state official. That a secular state official would refuse to provide this perfectly legal service is a violation of the civil rights of the couple wishing to marry. No one is asking the commissioners in question to change their religious beliefs or for their churches to change their doctrine; all they are being asked to do is their jobs.
We would not tolerate a white supremacist commissioner refusing to marry black or mixed-race couples, or a Muslim commissioner refusing to marry a Muslim and a Jew. This case is no different.