Friday, May 14, 2010

Canadian Court Hearing Arguments On Conscience Rights For Marriage Commissioners

Today's Vancouver Sun reports that for the first time in 20 years, the government of Canada's province of Saskatchewan has invoked the Constitutional Questions Act to obtain an opinion from the Court of Appeal on the constitutionality of proposed legislation. At issue are two alternative drafts of proposed legislation that would permit some or all of the province's 326 marriage commissioners to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies that are contrary to their religious beliefs. One draft would limit the exemption to individuals who were commissioners in 2004 when the province authorized same-sex marriages. The other draft would cover all commissioners.

Regina lawyer Mike Megaw was appointed by the government to argue in favor of the constitutionality of the law. Eighteen other individuals and groups were allowed to intervene in the case. Yesterday the court heard six hours of argument, and returns today to hear the remaining presentations. Some of the arguments yesterday focused on the breadth of the proposed law. It is not limited to same-sex marriage, and some claim that it could allow refusals on religious grounds to perform interracial marriages or marriages between people of different castes as well. (See prior related posting.)