FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 10th, 2011
SASKATCHEWAN COURT OF APPEAL UPHOLDS RIGHTS OF SAME-SEX COUPLES
Regina: Earlier this morning, Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal issued a decision unanimously upholding the rights of same-sex couples by ruling that it is unconstitutional for marriage commissioners to refuse to marry any couple for reasons of sexual orientation and, indeed, to do so “would have genuinely harmful impacts”. The decision comes as a result of the Government of Saskatchewan’s proposed amendments to the Marriage Act, which would have allowed government-appointed civil servants to discriminate against people in Saskatchewan on the basis of sexual orientation.
“This decision is an unequivocal victory for equality rights and for the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community,” declared Helen Kennedy, Executive Director of Egale Canada. “We are pleased to see that the Court has clearly recognized the distinction between civil and religious institutions of marriage.”
Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice Richards stated, “It would be a significant step backward if, having won the difficult fight for the right to same-sex civil marriages, gay and lesbian couples could be shunned by the very people charged by the Province with solemnizing such unions.” He continued, “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.”
“This is a very important decision,” said Donna Smith, member of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour’s Solidarity and Pride Committee. “An important precedent has now been set that will help to deter discrimination against same-sex couples that wish to marry.”
Although two separate decisions were included in the Reference, the five justices of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that it would be unconstitutional for the provincial legislature to amend the Marriage Act to allow marriage commissioners to refuse to marry same-sex couples based on religious objection. Writing in concurrence, Madam Justice Smith affirmed that the “performance of a civil marriage by a marriage commissioner under the Act is not a religious rite or practice. Nor does the requirement to do so limit or restrict religious belief.”
Egale Canada was granted intervenor status in the case along with the SFL’s Solidarity and Pride Committee, the GLCR, the Prairie Lily Feminist Society, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and a number of individuals from the LGBT community. Representatives from the SFL, the GLCR, and the Prairie Lily Feminist Society gathered at the GLCR in support of the important decision.
“In 2005, Canada became only the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage because we decided as a nation that human rights should be extended to all couples,” added Kennedy. “We are extremely pleased that Saskatchewan’s provincial court has come to the same conclusion.”
The full text of the reference can be viewed here.
Egale Canada is a national organization that advances equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people across Canada. It has over 4,000 members in every province and territory in this country.
For more information:
Helen Kennedy, Egale Canada, 416-270-1999
Cynthia Petersen, Counsel for Egale Canada, 416-710-1662