Well folks, they're at it again. The Neo-cons have once again begun to resurrect the same-sex marriage issue. It's common knowledge that they have been planning to reopen debate on the issue for some time now, and even to hold another free vote on the subject. Apparently they are also preparing legislation to be enacted just in case that fails.
In an interview with the Globe, justice minister Vic Toews confirmed that the government has been working on the Defense of Religion Act. Apparently this bill would provide "protection" for officials, such as justices of the peace, and ministers, who refuse to perform civil marriages for religious reasons. Evidently this legislation will also provide protection against human rights actions for religious leaders who criticize the gay lifestyle.
This legislation is as poorly thought out as it is redundant. Let's start with the protection of ministers (priests, Rabbis, etc) who refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Section 3 of the Marriage for Civil Purposes Act (the very act that recognizes same-sex marriage) specifically states: "It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs." I don't know why Mr. Toews and Mr. Harper feel that additional legislation is required.
As for the protection of justices of the peace, these people are state officials. They have a duty to perform government services, in accordance with the Charter, which does not permit discrimination against homosexuals. I would imagine that the courts would strike down any such legislation. I would say this is an interesting move by a government that justifies the elimination of the Court Challenges Program, on the basis that it does not intend to violate the charter!
Finally, there is also the matter of protecting religious leaders, who speak out against the gay lifestyle against human rights complaints. While each province has its own code of human rights, the only section of Ontario's Human Rights Code, that I've read that could be remotely interpreted as relevant to religious leaders speech is that of Section 13 (1) which states:
"A right under Part I is infringed by a person who publishes or displays before the public or causes the publication or display before the public of any notice, sign, symbol, emblem, or other similar representation that indicates the intention of the person to infringe a right under Part I or that is intended by the person to incite the infringement of a right under Part I. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 13 (1)."
But then it must also be noted that section 13 (2) states:
"Subsection (1) shall not interfere with freedom of expression of opinion. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 13 (2)."
Simply put, the mere expression of disapproval in public over a certain choice of lifestyle, is unlikely to be interpreted as a human rights violation, unless it is encouraging hatred or discrimination against gays. Which is something that should be illegal. How can we honestly call ourselves a free and tolerant society, if we allow certain individuals to incite fear amongst minority communities?
Sorry Steve, I guess Canada’s minorities may still be in need of the Court Challenges Program after all!