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Minister rekindles fight over same-sex marriages

Taking province to court to reclaim charter rights

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A Christian minister whose marriage commissioner's licence was yanked because he refused to perform same-sex ceremonies has rekindled a rights fight with the Manitoba government.

Kevin Kisilowsky is taking the province to court, seeking a declaration Vital Statistics officials have breached his guaranteed charter rights to freedom of religion and conscience.

A decade of same-sex marriage in Manitoba: number of ceremonies performed


2004 -- 21

2005 -- 83

2006 -- 102

2007 -- 93

2008 -- 64

2009 -- 57

2010 -- 67

2011 -- 63

2012 -- 73

2013 -- 67


Source: Manitoba Vital Statistics

He also wants an order that compels provincial officials to accommodate his "sincerely held religious belief" same-sex marriage is a sin against God's law and allows him to reclaim his registration to marry the people he wants -- while also declining to provide his services to gay and lesbian couples.

"It's just me wanting the right to refuse it without being harassed and bullied," Kisilowsky, 44, said Thursday in a telephone interview from his home in Stonewall.

"Why is the shoe always on the other foot?" he asked. "There's my rights, too... I'm saying I need to be protected based on my rights.

'I'm saying I need to be protected based on my rights'

"I am not requesting that the government cease performing marriages for same-sex couples," Kisilowsky states in a sworn affidavit filed in the Court of Queen's Bench. "Only that my religious rights be respected and accommodated to enable me to continue my services as a marriage commissioner without being required to violate my religious conscience."

The backdrop to the dispute is Sept. 16, 2004, when the province changed its definition of marriage from a union between a man and a woman to "the union of two persons, to the exclusion of all others," based on a Manitoba court ruling. A judge found the requirement to have opposite sexes to make a marriage legal violated equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That same day, Vital Statistics sent all its marriage commissioners a letter notifying them of the change in the law, saying they acted on behalf of the province and were expected to comply with the new definition.

"In the event you are opposed to performing marriages for same-sex couples, please return your certificate of registration to solemnize marriages so we may cancel your registration," the letter stated.

That sent Kisilowsky, who had been a licensed marriage commissioner for about a year, into battle against the province.

Kisilowsky refused to return his licence. It set off a lengthy legal battle with the province and a discrimination-based complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. That action stalled when the commission ruled there wasn't sufficient evidence to proceed with his complaint.

Kisilowsky said Thursday he'd specifically told Vital Statistics prior to seeking a licence he wanted to perform Christian ceremonies and wouldn't be able to conduct services that violated his faith.

They said it was OK by them, he said.

"Vital Statistics officials told me that my objections were acceptable and that I would be put on a 'private list' so that I could perform marriages with Christian content," Kisilowsky said in his affidavit.

Since his human rights complaint was dismissed, Kisilowsky said he has been granted temporary certificates to perform marriages. He said he has performed one or two ceremonies a year.

In addition to wanting the court to uphold and enforce his charter rights, Kisilowsky said he would like to have his marriage commissioner's licence reinstated for the sake of convenience.

Kisilowsky said he bears no ill will toward same-sex couples. He just doesn't want to be forced into violating his religion to be able to marry the people he chooses.

He said even members of the gay community have expressed bewilderment to him, saying they wonder who would want him to marry them if he doesn't want to do it.

No court dates have been set to hear Kisilowsky's case and the province has not yet responded to his claim.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2014 A5

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