The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has handed a victory to advocates of equality in rendering its decision in a reference on proposed amendements to Saskatchewan’s Marriage Act. The proposed amendments would have allowed provincially appointed marriage commissioners to refuse to perform civil marriages where to do so would conflict with their religious beliefs. The amendments were proposed in large part because of objections by some commissioners to same-sex marriage, which became legal in Canada in 2004. The proposed amendments are also broad enough to allow commissioners to refuse to perform marriages on other grounds, including objections to inter-faith and inter-racial unions. A unanimous five-judge panel of the Court of Appeal concluded that the proposed amendments were unconstitutional as they violated the right to equality in a way that could not be justified.
The CCLA, represented by special counsel Merrilee Rasmussen, intervened in this case to argue that the proposed amendments were unconstitutional as they violated the Charter’s fundamental right to equality. The CCLA argued that the amendments would risk creating a system of unequal access to basic government services. While the CCLA has always been, and remains, a staunch advocate of freedom of religion, the core function of marriage commissioners is to preside over civil marriages and, in Saskatchewan, marriages are performed either by religious officials or civil commissioners. The CCLA has advocated for the right of religious officials to refuse to perform ceremonies that are contrary to the tenets of their faith, but believes that as marriage commissioners are hired to perform a secular government service, they must serve the public equally.
Read the CCLA’s factum here.
Read the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s decision here.