In an advisory ruling on Dec. 9, 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada decreed that same-sex couples have an unequivocal equality right to marry under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Ontario government followed up on Feb. 22, 2005 with Bill 171, an omnibus act to eliminate all references to traditional marriage in 73 Ontario statutes, by replacing words such as father, mother, husbands and wives with the words spouses and parents.
To the astonishment of many, the Ontario Conference of Catholic bishops promptly lauded Bill 171. In a press release, “Ontario Catholic bishops welcome protective legislation,” Tom Reilly, then the general secretary of the conference, explained that while the bishops continued to oppose the judicial imposition of same-sex “marriage,” they commended the government for abiding by “the clear instructions of the Supreme Court of Canada in the same-sex ‘marriage’ reference to legislate in a way that protects the rights of religious officials.” Specifically, Reilly cited the stipulation in Bill 171 that the equality rights of homosexuals under the Ontario Human Rights Code are not infringed where a religious official refuses, on religious grounds, to “marry” a same-sex couple or to allow any sacred place or ancillary facility to be used for the solemnization or celebration of a same-sex “wedding.”
In a similar press release on Bill 171, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada expressed concern that “the purpose of this omnibus bill is to recognize in Ontario law the redefinition of marriage,” but stated that the EFC “welcomes the protection for religious freedom in Ontario Bill 171.” However, Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the EFC, also noted that “this bill does not address all religious freedom concerns related to the redefinition of marriage.” In particular, she said that “the EFC remains concerned about protection for civil officials who solemnize marriages.”
That concern was well justified. In Ontario, judges, justices of the peace and marriage commissioners can perform marriages, yet they are not covered by Bill 171. Consequently, these civil officials must perform a same-sex “marriage” upon request. Any who refuse on religious grounds to do so could be fined by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and consigned to jail as a prisoner of conscience.
The same goes for civil officials in other provinces. Orville Nichols, a devout Baptist and marriage commissioner in Regina, is well aware of the danger. He has been placed under investigation by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for refusing on religious grounds to perform a marriage ceremony at the request of a homosexual couple.
In Coquitlam, B.C., the Knights of Columbus have gotten into trouble with British Columbia’s human rights enforcers for refusing to rent their hall for a “marriage” celebration by a lesbian couple. The pair quickly found another hall for their “wedding” reception. Nonetheless, they formally charged the Knights with violating their equality rights as lesbians.
In a unanimous ruling on Nov. 29, 2005, a three-person panel of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal held that the Knights were not required to rent their hall to the lesbian couple or to find them an alternative facility, but had failed in their duty to consider whether they could assist the complainants in that process, if necessary. And for this alleged offence, the tribunal ordered the Knights to pay the lesbians $1,000 each for injury to their “dignity, feelings and self-respect.”
There is nothing in Bill 171, or in the supposed protection for freedom of religion in the Charter, to prevent a similar travesty of justice elsewhere in Canada. Neither is there anything in Bill 171 or the Charter to prevent a human rights tribunal from fining a conscientious musician or disc jockey for refusing on religious grounds to make his services available for the “wedding” of a same-sex couple.
And that’s not all. There is also nothing in the Charter, in Ontario’s Bill 171, or in the legislation of any other province, that provides solid protection even for ministers of religion who refuse to perform a same-sex “marriage.” Rogue judges in the appeal courts have become a law unto themselves. Just as they arbitrarily reformulated the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, so they have no compunction about changing any other provision of the common law, statute laws and the Constitution that clashes with their peculiar conceptions of justice. How long it will take for the Supreme Court of Canada to amend legislation like Bill 171 to require ministers of religion to perform same-sex “marriages” is anyone’s guess.