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Opinion My pluralism includes freedom to oppose gay marriage

During the acrid debate over the Parti Québécois's now thankfully doomed values charter, my gay friends were among the staunchest opponents of the proposal to ban public employees from wearing religious symbols. Having been on the receiving end of discrimination, they filled their Facebook pages with anti-charter diatribes and countless links to more of the same.

Few of them have shown the same spirit of religious tolerance toward Brendan Eich, the U.S. technology superstar who just lost his job for opposing gay marriage. And don't get them started on Trinity Western University, the private B.C. Christian college seeking accreditation for its law school despite the fact that it requires students to sign a covenant abstaining from sex outside marriage, which it defines as a strictly heterosexual affair. The B.C. Law Society may decide Friday whether to accredit TWU's law program. Ontario will follow soon.

Frankly, I don't see much difference between firing someone for wearing a hijab or hounding them from their job because they oppose gay marriage. As long as they don't let their religious views interfere with their jobs, there are no grounds for dismissal. Similarly, private law schools should be assessed based on their curriculum, not the religious beliefs of their faculty or students.

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If our commitment to pluralism is to mean anything, we must be willing to stand up for religious freedom, even if we find the tenets of some religions objectionable. Otherwise, we are no better than the Taliban, imposing an orthodoxy that makes us all smaller as human beings.

Mr. Eich is no anti-gay fundamentalist. The creator of the widely used JavaScript programming language gave $1,000 (U.S.) in support of California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in that state. That appears to have been the extent of his activism.

In gay marriage terms, 2008 is a century ago. Back then, even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were against it. Public opinion has shifted dramatically since Prop 8 was struck down, albeit on narrow legal grounds that did not establish a right to gay marriage under the U.S. Constitution.

Still, in the past year, the number of U.S. states that allow gay marriage has doubled to 17. The champions of marriage equality are winning – just not fast enough for some fanatics, who seek to blacklist even those who object to gay marriage based on sincerely held religious or moral grounds.

Mr. Eich stepped down last week as chief executive of Mozilla, the purveyor of the popular Firefox Web browser, barely 10 days after he had been named CEO. Officially, he resigned. But it seems Mozilla's board could not get rid of him fast enough. It succumbed to employees and the Twitter mob demanding Mr. Eich's head. "We're sorry. We must do better," said Mozilla's chairwoman.

Mr. Eich has been classy throughout this ordeal. He apologized to those for whom his views on gay marriage had caused pain. But, in a New York Times interview, he offered wise advice to all of us who toil in an increasingly diverse workplace: "If you can't leave your other stuff at the door, you're going to break into other groups. We have to be one group."

That does not mean bigots should be allowed to invoke religious freedom to legitimize their bigotry. The Christian right has been pushing to allow businesses to invoke religion to deny services to gay couples, following lawsuits against photographers and bakers who refused to cater to gay weddings, or commitment ceremonies where same-sex marriage remains illegal.

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Last week, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant. Critics say the law will "codify discrimination." Arizona's legislature passed a similar law in January, although Governor Jan Brewer wisely vetoed it a month later.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case of a New Mexico photographer who had invoked her right to free speech (rather than freedom of religion) to deny her services to a lesbian couple. But the court will rule soon on a case involving a business that is challenging, on religious grounds, the Obama administration law that requires employer-provided health insurance to include free contraception coverage.

Canadians like to think we're above the U.S. culture wars. But as Quebec's charter and TWU's application have shown, we have culture skirmishes of our own. They'll only get worse unless, as Mr. Eich says, we leave our other stuff at the door.

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