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Hall drops case against Catholic school

Prom fight would have been lengthy, expensive

MEDIA DARLING. When Marc Hall went to court over his high-school prom, the media had a field day.

Marc Hall, the former Catholic high school student who got a court injunction in 2002 so that he could bring his then-boyfriend to his high school prom, has withdrawn a lawsuit against his old Catholic school board.

“I wanted to focus my attention on my university studies instead,” says the 20-year-old Hall. “I don’t think it made sense for me to be… involved anymore because the trial would have been lengthy.”

When Hall was a 17-year-old Catholic school student at Oshawa’s Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School, he was told by his principal he wouldn’t be allowed to take his boyfriend to his high school prom. The Durham Catholic District School Board supported the principal’s decision, arguing that a same-sex date at the prom would be contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Hall took the school board to court arguing that his constitutional rights had been violated. In May 2002 the Ontario Superior Court Of Justice issued an injunction permitting Hall to attend the prom with his boyfriend. (They parted ways shortly after.) The injunction did not decide how the legal issues should be resolved at trial, which has been scheduled and rescheduled repeatedly until Hall’s withdrawal last month.

The case created a media sensation, with various groups like Parents, Family And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) and the Canadian Auto Workers banding together to form the Coalition In Support Of Marc Hall as interveners in the case. The story even inspired a 2004 made-for-TV movie Prom Queen: The Marc Hall Story.

Hall’s original trial date was set for October 2004, but it was postponed until this coming October because the judge and lawyers in the case thought the federal government’s same-sex marriage reference to the Supreme Court Of Canada might provide them with some direction, says Hall’s lawyer Andrew Pinto.

The Supreme Court provided its opinion on the reference in December 2004, clearing the way for the federal government’s Civil Marriage Act, Bill C-38, which passed final reading in the House Of Commons last week.

Had Hall’s case proceeded to trial, it could have dragged on for years, says Pinto.

“The issues [raised in Hall’s case] would go beyond the prom issue and would look at the overall rights of the Catholic District School Board versus the rights of students under the Charter,” says Pinto. It was also possible that Hall would have been held responsible for significant legal costs had he lost the case.

Even if Hall had been successful, an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court was likely because of the legal implications for publicly-funded Catholic school boards. That would have taken five to seven years, says Pinto.

Too long to be fighting over one prom date, says Hall.

None of the case’s interveners can step into Hall’s shoes because the prom date case didn’t directly affect their rights, says Pinto.

With the trial cancelled, the Durham Catholic District School Board argued in court on Jun 27 that the 2002 injunction should be quashed. The judge said no. The 2002 court injunction, though not binding, sets a sort of guideline, says Pinto.

“It does provide a good indication how future courts may rule.”

In his 2002 ruling permitting the injunction, Pinto says Justice Robert Mackinnon’s decision indicated the board could have been at fault as there is, “a diversity of views within the Catholic faith (concerning homosexuality) and it’s not clear that same-sex attendance at the prom must be prohibited in order to keep the religious nature intact.

“This is a publicly-funded system,” adds Pinto. “We think the balance can be struck appropriately.”

Hall is now going into second year at the University Of Waterloo majoring in psychology, with a minor in sexuality, marriage and family.

“I’m a really shy person. The media [in 2002] was super-overwhelming. It was hectic. I didn’t want that to happen again,” says Hall.

Still, he has no regrets.

“It was an awesome experience,” Hall says. “The benefits outweighed the negatives.”