A 70-year-old marriage commissioner in Regina, Saskatchewan has found himself in hot water for refusing to marry a gay couple.
A human rights complaint was filed against Orville Nichols after he told one of the men that he could not, in good conscience, perform the ceremony. This was not the first time he'd refused to marry a couple - he'd even turned down people who he felt were not taking the commitment seriously. Mr. Nichols referred the couple in question to another area commissioner who performed the ceremony.
I support gay marriage. No problem with it at all. But, Mr. Nichols became a marriage commissioner in 1983, years before the idea of such unions were even contemplated in Canadian society. He fulfilled his obligation to the couple and ensured their rights were protected by referring them to the other commissioner. There was no suggestion that he was rude or spoke in a homophobic way. He didn't even lie and just say he was busy that day, he actually told them it was because of his beliefs. I don't agree with his beliefs but I find his honesty admirable.
What's galling is the nature of the complaint. Apparently, the aggrieved party suffered from insomnia and anxiety after being told of Mr. Nichols' stance. Insomnia and anxiety...every couple who ever walked down the aisle could launch a complaint on that criteria.
Some commentary has suggested the complaint is an attack on Christianity. I don't buy that, either. Many religions have an opposition to homosexual marriage and many people who are not religious reject it on other grounds. Again, they're wrong but they're entitled to their stance. I view it more as an attack on intelligence and commonsense.
Had Mr. Nichols been appointed a marriage commissioner after homosexual marriage was formalized in Canada, I could understand the outrage against him. Ditto if he'd been rude or refused to help the couple find a commissioner who would conduct the ceremony. But, he might be punished because he was honest and forthright and acted in a decent manner.
A tribunal that just heard the case is expected to make a ruling in the spring. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is recommending he be ordered to stop discriminating against same-sex couples and that he pay a $5,000 fine.
My guess is he'll probably end up retiring over this. He's obviously out of step with the times and there will almost certainly be a ruling that he not discriminate.
But, the complaint itself has all the trappings of just plain nuisance behaviour that the Canadian taxpayer gets to fund. The next commissioner who doesn't want to perform a gay wedding will just lie about it, instead. Not exactly a step forward.