Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dear Orville: You're fired!

I guess we better get used to the Far Right whining on this. Via The Next Agenda, we have this report from the CTV on the heart-rending story of those downtrodden, persecuted Christians:

Same-sex marriage controversy flares in Sask.

The rights of a same-sex couple to marry faced off Wednesday against the rights of a Saskatchewan marriage commissioner who said he couldn't perform the service because of religious beliefs.

One of the gay men told a Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal that he was "crushed" when Orville Nichols refused to perform the wedding...

Nichols said Wednesday that had the same-sex marriage law been in place when he became a marriage commissioner in 1983, he would not have taken the job.

Now here's the important part (all emphasis added):

A lawyer for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, the agency responsible for receiving discrimination complaints, said marriage commissioners are required by law to provide civil wedding services.

"It's a service which has no religious connotations whatsoever," Janice Gingell said during a break at the hearing.

"It's specifically designed to take place outside of the framework of religious institutions."

"The marriage commissioner in this case is actually acting as an agent of the state," said Gingell. "He has one job - that particular job is to do a civil marriage ceremony outside the context of religion."

I'm guessing that one of the arguments that you'll be hearing on a regular basis is that, when bigots like Nichols originally took the job of marriage commissioner, it was understood exactly what his duties entailed and he was quite happy to perform those duties, but now the rules have changed in an unexpected way, and he's being asked to go beyond the original parameters of the job and that's just not fair.

Crap. Pure, unadulterated crap.

As anyone can read, the duties of a marriage commissioner are simple and straightforward -- you marry two people who are, by the laws of Canada, legally entitled to get married. That's it, and that's all.

The fact that the legal definition of "marriage" in Canada might change is not in any way even remotely relevant or significant to this argument. Nichols was previously willing to do his job as he originally accepted it, and now he isn't under exactly the same conditions.

There's no controversy here. Nichols refuses to perform his official duties, so fire his worthless, sorry ass and let's move on.

We have an opening for you, Orville. Don't slam it on the way out.

FREE AT NO EXTRA CHARGE: One of the grating claims that's frequently made in cases like this is that bigots like Nichols are taking a stand on principle, and refusing to compromise their religious beliefs, or some rancid, weaselly nonsense like that.

Hogwash. You want religious principle? Here -- here's some religious principle for you.

Now shut the hell up and go away.

... It's not like I need to flog an argument that's long dead, but what the hell. Religious loons like Nichols (and, one suspects, like annoying Christofascists such as Canadian fetus fetishist SUZANNE) are typically vocal defenders of this thing called "the separation of church and state." Yes, by God (pun intended), they'll brook absolutely no interference or meddling from the state in the internal affairs of the church, and that's the end of that discussion.

On the other hand (and I'm sure you figured out where this is going by now), these people who are ferocious defenders of keeping the state out of the business of the church are the same people who have no problem whatsoever with taking their religious beliefs and injecting them into the business of the state.

If the hypocrisy were any deeper, you'd need a freakin' stepladder just to keep breathing.

. Everything you need to know about SSM in Saskatchewan (all emphasis added):

The issue of same-sex marriages came to the forefront in Saskatchewan in November when Justice Donna Wilson, in a five-page ruling, ruled the traditional definition of marriage discriminates against gay couples under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

After hearing arguments from five gay and lesbian couples who were denied marriage licences in Saskatchewan, Justice Smith wrote "The common-law definition of marriage for civil purposes is declared to be 'the lawful union of two person to the exclusion of all others'."

Shortly afterward, provincial Justice Minister Frank Quennell stated Saskatchewan's more-than-300 marriage commissioners could not refuse to marry gay or lesbian couples, based on sexual orientation.

Any marriage commissioners opposing same-sex marriage on conscientious or religious grounds should resign, Quennell said, and about 10 including Ziola have done so.

In December the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the federal government can change the definition of marriage but also reaffirmed religious freedoms under the Charter, meaning religious officials were not required to perform same-sex marriages.

Quennell, however, said that because marriage commissioners acted for the province and were not religious officials, they couldn't discriminate against same-sex marriages.

I think we're done here, don't you?


calugg said...

Yeah, the bigots are trying this manueaver in NJ. HOWEVER, the insurance agency that defends local officials in all lawsuits have issued a ruling: they will only cover "gay marriage" lawsuits to 20,000 US, which means--if a local official refuses to officiate at a gay wedding, they will PERSONALLY be responsible for litigation fees after the $20,000. Since bilable hours in NJ run around $200 per hour--the $20K will quickly run out.

It's been amazing how fast some of the local bigots have changed their tune. They definately don't want to PAY for their beliefs....

CC said...

Hmmmmm ... I'm a little puzzled by the stance of those insurance companies.

Personally, of course, I don't think they should cover those local officials at all, but I'm curious as to what legal rationale the companies are using to say they're going to limit their coverage.

Do they have the right to arbitrarily put a limit on liability depending on the issue? If they could put a limit of $20,000, why not $10,000? Or $5,000? Or just plain zero?

Frankly, unless those insurance companies have some solid legal foundation for this, I can definitely see them being the target of a lawsuit for refusing to honour coverage.

Anyone want to expand on this?

Anonymous said...

I used to think that the marriage commissioners who don't want to perform SSM's would quietly find a way for their beliefs to be accommodated. Since they won't shut up about it, and are hell-bent on making a scene each and every time this comes up, then that's it. Fire them. No more wasting my taxes on these loud-mouthed lunatics who don't respect the laws of this country.

Olaf said...

This is one case, CC, where we're on the exact same page. If you can't or aren't willing to do the job as it is described, you have no claim to that job. If your job description changes (in this case, very slightly), and you don't like it, you're free to quit. Simple as that.

Anonymous said...

To be precise, Olaf, it's not strictly just a change in a job description; it's also about acting on behalf of the State in peforming a duty regulated by the State in accordance with the laws of the State.

CC said...

Careful with that qualifier, Olaf: The job description did not change, in even the slightest way.

Allowing even that minimal amount of wiggle room totally changes the issue, and gives the wingnuts something to hang their argument on, so your position -- as reasonable and accommodating as it might sound -- doesn't fly.

P.S. Does someone have a reference to the actual job description for a marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan? Does it explicitly describe civil marriage as between a man and a woman? I think we need to see that document before going any further.

Cliff said...

It would be exactly the same if a marriage commisioner claimed marrying two people of different races was against his beliefs. Fire his ass.

There's quite rightly, an exception for religion. Start telling churches who they have to marry and I'll be on the side of the churches - even though I disagree with their choice its their choice to make, but if you are acting for the state you follow the law of the land. Period.

calugg said...

On the insurance company(and one company provides litigation insuranace for most NJ municipalities): THis was after the state of NJ Attorney General ruled that local officials MUST comply with state law on Civil unions.

Insurance companies are not bound to defend illegal and public intransigence by public officials in court. THese laws exempting insurance agencies from covering "willful and public" misconduct by governmental officials are a legacy from the civil rights area. It means the individual public official now becomes liable for litigation--a scary prospect unless one is getting money from the Scaffie Foundation.

You're right, technically the company is now exempt from covering officals at all if they get sued over not performing CU's, but it wanted to offer a modicum of coverage to avoid getting dropped by conservative municipalities.

Welcome to NJ.

CC said...

calugg writes:

"You're right, technically the company is now exempt from covering officals at all if they get sued over not performing CU's, but it wanted to offer a modicum of coverage to avoid getting dropped by conservative municipalities."

Not to belabour this -- well, all right, let's belabour it -- but it still doesn't make sense to try to placate a certain portion of your clientele by offering limited coverage for legal action that, by state law, has absolutely no chance of victory.

In fact, if I was a policy holder with that company, I might consider legal action since they're clearly throwing money away for no good reason, which has a good chance of raising my premiums.

And if that was a public company and I was a shareholder, I'd be pissed.

calugg said...

Sorry for the double post. Anyway, here's the link.

Here's a clip:
The statewide insurance fund passed the policy on Jan. 3 to preempt attempts by officials to use public insurance funds to challenge the law and essentially finance a test case, according to David Grubb, the fund's executive director.

He said it appeared that some officials might challenge the law by performing marriages but not civil unions, and it would not be appropriate to spend public money in order to fight that issue up and down the courts.

Though the statewide insurance pool is not required to provide funds for intentional violations of the law, it must provide insurance money until a judge determines the law-breaking was deliberate, Grubb said. That little catch could have cost a seven-digit number in insurance payouts, he said.

The Morris County Joint Insurance Fund, which insures 30 of the county's 39 municipalities, unanimously passed the resolution Jan. 10 capping payouts, said Ellen Sandman, a commissioner who oversees coverage issues with the fund. She said, The law is the law, and the county fund moved to bring its policies in line with the evolving situation.

Denville Mayor and Freeholder Gene Feyl, who initially said he would not perform a civil union if asked to by a gay couple, said yesterday he no longer objects to it, and his thinking has changed since Attorney General Stuart Rabner's ruling clarifying the matter.

So, that's where things stand...

Unknown said...

"Nichols said Wednesday that had the same-sex marriage law been in place when he became a marriage commissioner in 1983, he would not have taken the job."
- Mr. Reactionary, nobody is stopping you from quitting your job NOW.

The gov't does not have the right to ask Nichols about his religious affiliation and deny him the job position. So, where the hell does Nichols gets the idea that he can use his religious freedom as a club on the public at large?

catnip said...

So, where the hell does Nichols gets the idea that he can use his religious freedom as a club on the public at large?

Hmmm...I wonder...

No doubt he has so-called REAL Women or Focus on the Family backing him up. They jusy never give up even when they've so obviously lost. It's time for all of them to get with the 1960s already.

Somena Woman said...

my husband is an agnostic/athiest. When we had our marriage ceremony - the non-native one, we specifically wrote out words for the Justice of the Peace to read. She then proceeded to take liberty, saying she had the right to do so, and bring god into things. My husband was furious. He didn't want to cause a scene. But it still pisses him off to this day.

These people take themselves way to seriously, with their need to impose their values upon others. Our marriage was supposed to be entirely secular. The "spiritual" ceremony, was to take place some months later, and my husband was ok with that because his understanding of Aboriginal spirituality is that mostly it simply conforms to natural law and he has no issue with this.

Still it left a bad taste in our mouth when we hired this woman to perform a very simple, short task, and she could not keep GOD out of it.

He was almost ready to demand a refund from her. I told him to just let it go. That what did it matter what some non-native government agent said at our engagement ceremony.. because we had used the non-native event, to double as a traditional engagement ritual, where he officially asked permission of my relatives and ancestors to marry me, and promised that he would to the best of his ability take care of me and my family - and he gave them all blankets to show how much he esteemed them and me.

He agreed with me, that it didn't matter what a non-native government agent had said. We had already exchanged our pre-written vows. It was an agreement between us, that had nothing to do with her.

Anonymous said...

Let me offer a contrary viewpoint:

First of all, the Charter contains positive rights both in s.2 and s.15 in favour of religious freedom, thought, belief, and expression of those beliefs.
In other words the Charter specifically directs judges to protect an individual's to hold and express religious beliefs.

Second of all, these rights are individual rights, not collective rights. They are rights protecting individuals against government action. These rights protect gay and lesbian individuals against discrimination by the government. So so long as the governemt provides the service required, there is no discrimination.

Thirdly, I do not believe individuals give up rights when they become employed by the government, even religious rights. Note that the Mountie uniform is completely secular but that Sikhs were able to have the courts override RCMP uniform regulations so that they could wear turbans and kirpans (I could not find the case citation at this moment).

Finally, the same-sex marriage was performed, not by Mr. Nichols, but by another commissioner Mr. Nichols referred them to. In my view the two persons were not discriminated against by the government (i.e. they were not prevented from doing what they wanted to do) and so their rights were not violated. Compelling Mr. Nichols specifically to perform the marriage is a violation of his individual religious rights (i.e. he was forced to do something against his religious beliefs) and his dismissal is a constructive dismissal.

What this means, I believe, is that the government is required to perform same-sex marriages, individual government workers may not be, if they can show that these beliefs have a religious basis. Note that the courts do not accept simple declarations on the part of individuals that their beliefs have a religious basis, otherwise individuals could declare their homes to be temples and avoid property taxes, etc. So all arguments that say an individual would say "well I just won't serve this person because they are black, gay, disabled, muslim, or whatever because of my religion" fall by the wayside. There is a specific belief regarding the nature of marriage in most religions; on the basis of natural law, the creation of life, and the upbringing of children, most religions restrict marriage to one man and one woman. There is no restriction on most other other activities. The only other one I can think of would be birth certificates where, for reasons similar to those stated above, religious restrictions might come in to play.

So long as the citizen reqesting service from the government is able to obtain the service, there is no discrimination I can see.

Jeremy Maddock said...

You accuse the Christian Right of promoting a double standard on "the separation thing," but isn't your own double standard just as bad...

You're saying that the state can offend against the religious views of individuals as much as it likes, simply because you don't share those religious views.

You seem to think the state is some kind of all-knowing benevolent force, and as soon as the House of Commons decides something, we're all duty-bound to agree with it... so long as it doesn't inconvenience you that is.

"Freedom for me but not for thee" is the hypocritical mantra of modern-day liberalism.