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Canada  

Still fighting homophobia

Just over 14 years ago, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador issued the province's marriage commissioners an ultimatum: agree to perform same-sex marriages or resign.

At least seven commissioners, many of them mayors, chose to quit, arguing overseeing such marriages would contradict their religious beliefs.

But one former commissioner, Desiree Dichmont, also filed a human rights complaint, claiming discrimination based on religious creed. The case has been snaking its way through the courts ever since — and even though Dichmont has died, the case remains alive.

An Alberta-based free speech advocacy group, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, recently won the right to intervene in the appeal proceedings, arguing the public has an interest in the outcome. The latest appeal in the case will be heard next month.

LGBTQ activists who championed the issue of same-sex marriage more than a decade ago say the case's renewed life speaks to lingering homophobia in Canada that has since moved under the surface.

"I feel like I'm in a time warp," said Newfoundlander Gemma Hickey, who was president of advocacy group EGALE Canada in 2004 when same-sex marriage was legalized and fought for legalization across Canada.

"I wasn't surprised back then and I'm not surprised now," Hickey said in an email from Tokyo.

Should the case set a precedent for future objections based on religious belief, Hickey said the consequences would be dire for LGBTQ people in rural parts of the province.

For example, then-mayor Claude Elliott was Gander's sole marriage commissioner when he resigned his duties as a marriage commissioner in 2005.

"My concern is for same-sex couples in rural areas who don't have a choice between marriage commissioners. They shouldn't have to travel elsewhere to find someone to marry them in a civil ceremony," Hickey said.

"A wedding is something to celebrate and regardless if someone agrees or disagrees, same-sex marriage has been a reality in the province of N.L. since 2004 and in Canada since 2005."



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