It is a welcome development that the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association has come out strongly behind new provincial legislation that allows gay and lesbian Catholic high-school students to organize themselves on school grounds under the banner “gay-straight alliance.” Welcome because gay and lesbian students can be subjected to brutal bullying that has led in some cases to suicide, and they need all the support they can get. And also welcome because there are some powerful forces opposed to that part of the law.
Catholic school trustees, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, the Archbishop of Toronto and a national pro-life group all believe the word “gay” on a school notice board, and the support it would imply for homosexuality, contradicts the Vatican’s ruling that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity” that are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.” The 43,000 members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, like so many others, recognize that the Vatican’s position contradicts Canadians’ constitutional right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation. They embrace the part of the law that allows students to use the name “gay-straight alliance” in Catholic schools because they are the adults who walk the halls and see the bullying that takes place in high school. They are the ones who know how bullying can damage and even destroy a child’s education. And they seem to understand better than their employer that banning the term “gay-straight alliance,” as one Toronto-area Catholic high school did, is an official endorsement of intolerance and a direct contradiction of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario’s recent statement that bullying in any form is unacceptable (any form except theirs?).
Some opposed to the new rule, which will take effect in time for the school year that begins in September, are calling on church leaders and Catholic school boards to challenge the law based on section 93 of the Constitution. That’s the section that guarantees the antique right of publicly funded Protestant and Catholic school boards to exist. But publicly funded schools can’t violate the Constitution’s more modern protection of the fundamental rights of gays and lesbians. If Catholic students and their courageous teachers are ready to make this contradiction work, shouldn’t everyone else get on board?