TORONTO, Jan. 7, 2005 – Catholic Civil Rights League ( today noted that reports of marriage commissioners across Canada being required to marry same sex couples violates freedom of religion and conscience rights and raises concerns for all Canadians whose work involves serious conscience issues.

“We’ve said throughout the marriage debate that the basic right of clergy to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies not in accordance with their beliefs is inadequate, and does not address the concerns of marriage commissioners and other government employees involved with civil marriage,” said Phil Horgan, president of CCRL. “We believe that the right to follow one’s conscience on marriage issues must extend to civil marriages, not just religious ones.”

In Newfoundland, the most recent province to declare same sex marriage legal, marriage commissioners (many of whom are mayors in their communities) and marriage licence issuers have received a letter from the provincial Vital Statistics Division advising them that they must marry same sex couples or resign. One mayor has already resigned, while another has announced he will not comply with the order. Similar letters were sent out in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia last fall, and there have been resignations in those provinces because of the directive.

“Proponents of same sex marriage say that a new definition of marriage will not have adverse effects.  Tell that to marriage commissioners who have to resign if they dare to disagree.  Will this issue only be taken seriously if a judge who refuses to perform a same sex marriage is forced to resign in the face of a judicial complaint?”, said Mr. Horgan.

“The broad impacts of same sex marriage are only beginning to be observed.  The new world of sexual orientation intolerance may soon be coming to a school or workplace near you.  Advocates will not stop at taking away jobs, or forcing kids to receive compulsory sensitivity training or re-education on what is considered by most to be morally offside.  Canadians need to understand that their cherished religious and conscience rights may soon be severely diminished, unless governments reassert those rights now.”

Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has recommended that public employees be able to opt out of performing same sex marriage ceremonies on conscience grounds, but rules governing the solemnization of marriages are traditionally in provincial jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court’s December reference decision reaffirms that only the provinces may legislate solemnization requirements. New Brunswick is currently drafting legislation allowing civil marriage officials to decline to officiate in same sex marriages on conscience grounds.

About CCRL

Catholic Civil Rights League ( assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244