7.10.2009

saskatchewan officials, do your job or give it up

When you're too far right for the Globe and Mail, you know you're well outside the Canadian mainstream. The bigots in Saskatchewan who want to give government officials the right to not marry same-sex couples are more like something from 1955 Alabama than 21st Century Canada.
Saskatchewan wishes to give its marriage commissioners the legal right to refuse to marry gay couples. Imagine a U.S. state, after the last anti-miscegenation laws fell in 1967, granting government officials the right to reject interracial couples. Wouldn't that have continued the discrimination? Or how about giving a bus driver the right to stop driving when a black man or woman sits at the front of the bus. A right accepted so grudgingly - a right from which public officials may opt out - is not truly a right.

The governing Saskatchewan Party seems to know it's on weak ground. Rather than simply passing a law giving marriage commissioners the right to refuse to marry gays, it developed two versions (refusal rights for marriage commissioners employed as of 2004, when same-sex marriage became legal, and refusal rights for all marriage commissioners) and referred them to the province's Court of Appeal for an advisory opinion. Both versions fly in the face of Charter equality-rights protections, but if the government disagrees, it should have the courage of its convictions, rather than inviting unelected judges to write the laws for it.

Even the provincial Department of Justice's own lawyers did not wish to argue for the government's position in court, after they took the contrary position for a previous government, according to Don Morgan, the Minister of Justice. That should have been enough to raise red flags. Of course, Mr. Morgan could have simply fired all the government lawyers. Instead, he sweetly said that "they feel that to argue a different point now ... would be problematic for them." He then went out and retained a lawyer in private practice to handle the case. Mr. Morgan is certainly consistent in backing the right to opt out. (Can people in Saskatchewan opt out of paying taxes?)

This is not, really, about a clash between the religious freedom of marriage commissioners and the rights of gays. Public officials have no right to decline to do their core duties because of religious belief. A public school teacher cannot refuse to teach sex education because of religious objections. A library worker cannot refuse to sign out books that violate her belief system. That is not what is meant by an "accommodation." To destroy the spirit of equality and impartiality in which public services are delivered would be an unreasonable accommodation indeed.

If you work for the government, you have to uphold the laws of the land and citizens' Charter rights. That's really all there is to it. If your antediluvian beliefs preclude you from doing that, you have only one option: quit.

3 comments:

Cornelia said...

I agree, Laura. It's part of their job and if they have a problem with it, they can look for work somewhere else, apply for welfare whatever.

Cornelia said...

Or switch with a colleague who can do that (and help them out in turn with something else or buy them chocolate or pay them for it, I simply don't care, but homosexual couples need to be able to exercise their rights over there as well, that's the only thing that matters here.

impudent strumpet said...

Basically this sets the precedent that any civil servant can refuse to do a part of their job if they disagree with it.

Admin doesn't like your project? You don't get a conference room booked!

Tech support doesn't like the program you administer? Your computer doesn't get fixed!

Highway workers don't think the speed limit should be lowered on this stretch of road? They refuse to post the sign!

Caseworker thinks disability benefit requirements are too strict? They refuse to send out rejection letters!

They'd never ever succeed in enacting pay freezes or layoffs because the HR or compensation people or the managers would just refuse to administer them.

It's no way to run a government, obviously, but it would be incredibly fascinating to see what would happen.