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Gay students are entitled to level playing field at university

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Senator Donald Plett just doesn't get it. In his opinion piece (Anti-Christian bigotry has become politically acceptable, May 9), he defends Trinity Western University's proposed law school against its critics, and postures as a defender of Canadian Christians in general.

Trinity Western is the private, fundamentalist Christian university in Langley, B.C., that wants to open a law school, perhaps in 2016. The school's students and staff would have to comply with the university's covenant, which forbids sex outside of opposite-sex marriage. If students or staff are legally married to a same-sex spouse, they are not welcome.

Ontario's law society has decided in advance that Trinity Western law grads cannot become lawyers in Ontario. That decision is being challenged in the courts. It will likely reach the Supreme Court of Canada. No one knows what the outcome will be.

Senator Plett, a Harper appointee who personally opposed same-sex marriage rights when they were still being debated, defends Trinity Western. In doing so, he uses clever rhetoric, such as referring to "the traditional definition of marriage". Yes, prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying was traditional, but it is not anymore, at least not in Canada, the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, many American states, and many other democracies. The writing is on the wall: whether Senator Plett likes it or not, equal marriage will become the norm in the democratic world.

Senator Plett cunningly refers to the "70 per cent of Canadians who identify as Christians". He cleverly omits the fact many of these belong to Christian denominations that now embrace equal marriage. For example, the United Church of Canada claims about two million members. Also, many of those who "identify" as Christians are nominal Christians who never set foot in a church.

However, the most annoying aspect of Senator Plett's commentary is his implication that minority groups like gays and lesbians no longer face bigotry in Canada, but Christians do. The truth is more or less the opposite. Some individual wingnuts may utter occasional anti-Christian insults, but they have no real power. They do not own universities, let alone law schools.

On the other hand, Trinity Western, a powerful fundamentalist Christian organization, has the money and power to run a university that will soon include a law school. It is not easy to get into law school in Canada. There are many applicants for every spot. The fact legally married gays and lesbians will soon be shut out from some of those scarce spots is no trivial matter.

As for bigotry, insults directed at lesbian and gay students are still common in every school in Canada. The fact kids still commonly use "gay" as a synonym for "bad" is an obvious symptom of this problem.

Of course Canada and the democratic world are changing. Bigotry against gays and lesbians is gradually decreasing. But the reality is it is still very difficult to be openly lesbian or gay in small-town Canada, particularly in "Bible belt" areas.

I have no idea what the courts will do with the Trinity Western dispute. I do know that gay and lesbian law students and professors deserve a level playing field with their straight peers. They will not find that level playing field at Trinity Western.

 

Elliot Leven is a Winnipeg gay lawyer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2014 A9

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