The misinformation from the religious right, well-represented in Stephen Harper's Conservative caucus, has already started after yesterday's ruling by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that public servants don't have the right to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to legally marry.
"The Court has hereby belittled religious faith by writing it off as something 'you do in your head or on weekends' without it impacting all of a person’s life," Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott wrote to the province’s Justice Minister Don Morgan Tuesday.
"It’s a serious misunderstanding of Christian faith or any faith for that matter," Vellacott told QMI Agency in an interview.
"The inference here (is) you can hold these beliefs and freedom to worship just long as it doesn't affect your life or how you live out your life. And that obviously is a serious problem," he said. "It sets up a hierarchy of rights saying these same-sex rights are more important than freedom of conscience and religion."
Wrong. The ruling simply re-affirms that public servants, paid with public dollars, cannot discriminate against members of the public based on their personal biases, be they religious or otherwise. It is the duty of such public servants to adhere to the law and treat all equally. Civil marriage commissioners must be willing to perform the ceremony for any who qualify. Refusing to follow that law is a violation of the job's responsibilities. What Vellacott and others seem to want is the ability to openly and defiantly discriminate against gay people in all areas of life whenever it suits them. They want religious people to be above the law. They want religious people to, in fact, have special status under the law.
I support yesterday's ruling. I do think there can be some compromises on this issue that allow marriage commissioners who oppose same sex marriage on religious grounds to keep their jobs. Perhaps Ontario's "single entry point" system is the best solution. In that system, those looking for a marriage commissioner get one list if they're a heterosexual couple and another list if they're a same-sex couple.
However, some folks in this case simply don't get it and seemingly never will. For them, they see no contradiction between holding a public office in a secular state and discriminating against LGBT people seeking to exercise their rights in that secular state. For them, their personal faith trumps all others' rights. This argument has dangerous implications if taken to their full extent, something they conveniently ignore. We could soon see male Muslim doctors refuse to treat women. We could soon see anyone who claims to have religious faith exercise mass forms of discrimination and indignity and have it all be justified as they were, they say, practising their faith.
Says Larry Bjerland, the Saskatchewan marriage commissioner at the centre of this case: "I do not intend to marry any gay couples and so, therefore, I’m not going to resign. They’ll have to fire me."
Perhaps they will fire him. Or perhaps they'll design a smart system which allows same sex couples to get the service they're entitled to get, while still allow folks like Bjerland to keep their positions. We shall see.
The vast majority of Canadians support equal treatment under the law for all, including LGBT people. They understand fully that public servants must provide service to all members of the public without discrimination. Religious people are free as ever to practise their faith as they see fit, except when doing so in the public sphere circumvents the rights of others. The state still has no jurisdiction in the churches of the nation.