Friday 14 January 2011

I don't get it

Canada's Supreme Saskatchewan's Appeals Court has ruled that civil celebrants cannot discriminate against same sex couples. So if they're licensed as celebrants, they have to take all comers.

I'm more a freedom of association guy. I don't like the kind of preferences that would have the celebrant turn down a gay couple, but I don't much think the government ought be forcing people to take clients. I know that mine is a minority view. I still hear Walter Williams's lectures on discrimination in the back of my head: how he discriminated when he chose Mrs. Williams over all the other women who wanted him and how nobody could have forced him to date a selection of women that reflected the diversity of America's ethnic composition before making his choice.

The bit I really really don't get is why anybody would want to have their wedding day ruined by having an officiant there who hates them or who hates that they're being married. What kind of utility function gets more joy from the discomfort of someone forced to officiate over them than pain from having a horrible awkward wedding day?

We had no officiant at our wedding (more below). But had we been forced to have one, and we found that the officiant we'd picked hated Canadians and thought it a sin that Canadians be allowed to marry Americans, we'd have been looking for another officiant rather than a lawyer. I can understand the utility of making a political point. But getting smugness jollies by having someone who hates you and your marriage preside over your wedding? I just don't get some folks' utility functions.

When Susan and I married, we had no officiant at all. Pennsylvania law lets non-Quakers use the Quaker-style ceremony. The Quaker church hasn't a hierarchy, so weddings there simply formalize the community's recognition that a couple has married. So everyone in attendance at our wedding signed on as witnesses to our wedding contract; Susan and I officiated our own ceremony to which representatives of neither god nor government were invited. Instead we were married on the recognition of our friends and family - people we like, who like us, who we wanted there and who wanted to be there. Self-uniting marriages are recognized more broadly than Pennsylvania. I don't know why more libertarian atheists don't use them. You still need to get the marriage licence authorized by the state, but why invite the state to the ceremony if you hate the state?


  1. I agree that it doesn't make sense to use a celebrant who doesn't you or your partner for any reason, unless they're the only show in town and even then you'd probably import an more likeable celebrant.

    I believe the court took the position that celebrants are acting as an agent of the state and only as an agent of the state and therefore should not allow personal preferences (bigotry) to determine client suitability.

    The decision raises other interesting questions, if I wish to get married wearing nothing but Borat's mankini, I'm guessing Canadian celebrants can't turn me down either now.

    So in practical terms the bigoted celebrants will just need to make up another reason...

  2. Why would anyone want a celebrant who opposes their marriage? No one. This law is purely symbolic with few practical effects. In fact, blurring the distinction between tolerant and intolerant celebrants is the most likely effect. Ironically, this will harm gays, etc. because they will find it more difficult to screen out bigoted celebrants!

  3. Thats just what I was thinking, blink.

    Though it might force some of the bigoted ones out of the industry, it wont push them all out and certainly wont force the really bad ones out.

    What bigot would pass up the opportunity to finish with "And I now pronounce you gaylord and faggot"?