According to a recent COMPAS poll, a "majority of Canadians believe marriage commissioners should be allowed to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage if it is against their religious beliefs", provided there are enough marriage commissioners available for same-sex unions.
72% of those contacted for the survey saying that clergy should have the right not to marry a same-sex couple if it runs counter to their beliefs.
First of all, the title of the story is confusing and misleading, because a religious official's right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage is supposedly already covered by the June 2005 gay marriage bill, although it is my understanding that since this is a provincial jurisdiction, it needs to be ratified by each individual province as was already done by Ontario. Alberta was attempting to do so when the bill was bogged down in the legislature due to disagreements with the opposition.
Marriage 'commissioners' are not necessarily members of the clergy.
However, I found this part surprising:
The poll posed a number of hypothetical situations to the 502 people surveyed, asking them if a teacher should be allowed to write a letter to the editor opposing the same-sex law or if a printer should have the right to refuse to print a brochure for a gay group.
In both cases, the respondents to the poll supported those rights, 68% saying the teacher should be allowed to write such a letter and 61% supporting the printer.
The poll also found a majority of Canadians favour a review of Ottawa's same-sex marriage law to ensure it does not infringe on freedom of religion, with 64% of those surveyed supporting a full or partial review of the existing same-sex marriage legislation "to make sure that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fully protected."
So clearly there is some support for a DORA type of legislation.
The reference to marriage commissioners is a constant source of disagreement on both sides of this issue. The main problem seems to be the 'dog's breakfast' manner in which various provinces solemnize marriage, so it is difficult to pass federal legislation that pertains to any area so clearly not under its purview. Some provinces have civil marriages only performed by government employees and others such as Manitoba grant marriage commissioner licences to anyone over the age of 18; even for a weekend. This is then kind of a part-time position for them, and they are not civil servants.
Such is the case of Kevin Kisilowsky, the Manitoba marriage commissioner who got his licence revoked because he refused to perform same-sex marriages due to religious beliefs.
Kisilowsky is appealing a Manitoba Human Rights Commission decision which dismissed his case where he argued that he was being discriminated against because the province refused to accommodate his religious beliefs. The only marriages he could not opt out of were gay marriages.
There is such a confusing hodge-podge of legislation across the country, that I'm not sure how this can all be resolved fairly. Personally, I think that any civil employee who was a marriage commissioner prior to the gay marriage law should be excused from being forced to perform such ceremonies. New employees however, should be made aware of the new law before signing on. (IMHO)
However when it comes to situations such as that with Mr. Kisilowsky, the issue of balancing various rights becomes much more difficult. I really do feel though, that a marriage commissioner who is not a civil employee should be able to opt out, provided that there are enough willing to accomodate a gay couple.
Clearly, this debate is far from over.