Former Manitoba marriage commissioner loses battle to opt out of performing same-sex weddings

The court has ruled against a former Manitoba marriage commissioner’s claims that the province’s requirement to perform same-sex marriages violates his freedom of religion.

Kevin Kisilowsky argued the requirement violates his freedom of religion

A court has ruled against a former Manitoba marriage commissioner's claims he should be able to opt out of performing same-sex marriages. The court said allowing him to do so 'could result in more rejections and difficulty for same-sex couples,' particularly 'in remote or small communities,' like Steinbach, Man., where thousands of people took part in the first Pride parade July 9th. (CBC)

The court has ruled against a former Manitoba marriage commissioner's claims that the province's requirement to perform same-sex marriages violates his freedom of religion.

In September, Kevin Kisilowsky filed his case to the Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg calling for the law mandating that all marriage commissioners perform same-sex weddings be struck down.

Kisilowsky, a Christian who performs his ministry through the Bondslave Motorcycle Club, was appointed a marriage commissioner in 2003. However, he stopped in 2004 following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

All commissioners in Manitoba are required to perform same-sex ceremonies. Unlike priests, rabbis and other religious officials, marriage commissioners perform civil ceremonies only and must follow provincial guidelines.

Canada's first legally married same-sex couple Michael Stark, left, and Michael Leshner kiss after their marriage in Superior Court in Toronto on Tuesday, June 10, 2003. Kisilowsky said marrying same-sex couples went against his religious beliefs. ( Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Kisilowsky said marrying same-sex couples went against his religious beliefs. He also filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission but it was dismissed in 2005.

In the judgment delivered on Monday, Justice Karen Simonsen said Kisilowsky had other options for performing marriages including applying for a temporary marriage commissioner's appointment, which he has done before.

Refusing would be 'significant and offensive'

"The effect of the applicant telling a same-sex couple that he cannot marry them would be significant and offensive. If the applicant were allowed to refuse to do so, other marriage commissioners may follow suit," Simonsen wrote in the ruling.

"This could result in more rejections and difficulty for same-sex couples finding a marriage commissioner who would marry them. The difficulty could be compounded in remote or small communities where the number of marriage commissioners is small."

Simonsen added that Kisilowsky can practice his faith as he chooses "but is simply not permitted to use his faith as a basis to refuse to marry couples whose weddings, due to religious or moral views, offend him."