When it comes to religion, my attitude has been to live and let live. I’ve never had much time for religious belief myself, but as long as the believers left me alone, I was never much bothered.
I even went to a Catholic high school for five years, and, despite my distaste for their rituals and many of their practices, I got along very well with most of my teachers.
But that was a long time ago. In the interim, and especially in the last decade, religion has decided to stop leaving me and other non-believers alone. Now the fundamentalists are trying to force their beliefs down the throats of Canadians.
And the tipping point seems to have been homosexuality. As the gay and lesbian community started to win legal victories — human rights protection, hate crimes protection, the right to adopt — religious types started using the pulpit in their churches, mosques and synagogues to attack what they saw as this sinful direction.
And when schools started instituting equity policies and curricula that addressed gays and lesbians, fundamentalists went apeshit. Parents started attacking school boards, demanding to pull their children out of classes, screaming religious intolerance. And buoyed by the fact that Ontario, because of archaic laws and ancient history, has a fully funded Catholic school system, other religions started demanding their own schools.
And while proposals for tax credits for private and religious schools have been shot down, the result in Ontario is a patchwork system where a taxpayer-funded separate school system and numerous private schools have one thing in common: a hatred of homosexuals. Sure, private schools that want to issue secondary school diplomas have to follow the provincial curriculum, but they’re free to teach anything they want beyond that. And the government is powerless to do anything about it.
In fact, religious schools are even infiltrating public school boards. In the Niagara region, a school run by a homophobic Christian sect is fully funded by the public school board. Most taxpayers in the region probably don’t know about this arrangement — my parents, for example, certainly didn’t — and the fact that nobody involved, from the school to the board to the government, was willing to talk about it indicates it’s not something they want to advertise.
So how did it happen? It happened because a generally progressive union — the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation — was so afraid of private school tax credits ruining the public school system and the education it provides to children that they approved the arrangement, despite what it might mean to queers. That’s what religion has accomplished: even when they fail, they manage to make the gay community’s supposed allies sacrifice queers.
Nor is education the only area where supposed queer advances are being undercut or ignored. Gays and lesbians are supposed to be able to adopt or foster children based solely on their fitness as guardians and not on their sexual orientation. But in Toronto, at least, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society — another publicly funded separate religious system — has decided to ignore that requirement and refuse to let queer couples adopt. And they get away with it, partially because the only recourse is a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which would take years to resolve. But the other reason is because, once again, even progressive voices will choose to sacrifice gay rights rather than take action against Children’s Aid.
But, of course, it’s gay marriage that’s really brought out the loonies. It’s meant millions of dollars from the religious right in the US being poured into Canada, some directly to their friends in the Conservative party, and much into the “family values” organizations that have sprung up in response, calling on Canadians to, yes, protect the children.
Even the federal NDP has formed a religious caucus. And while the party supported same-sex marriage, the age-of-consent debate has shown that the party and their religious caucus are not immune to religious homophobia.
It’s bad enough the party will support legislation raising the age of consent from 14 to 16. But, while some of its MPs are fighting to include a clause that would lower the age of consent for anal sex from its current 18 to an equal age, the NDP has not promised to vote against the bill if that change is not included.
As former Ontario NDP attorney general Marion Boyd told me, that reluctance to defend anal sex does stem from the bible.
“It’s that kind of Levitical thing that gets people really upset,” she said. “It’s not really surprising that we talk about missionary position.”
The bill itself — like the schools, like children’s aid — stems from a misguided conviction that these policies are necessary to protect children. And once again, even supposed allies like the NDP are willing to sacrifice queer rights rather than run the slightest risk of being seen as not protecting children.
Queers are losing the fight because the religious right is trotting out the old bogeyman of gays hurting children. They may not be alleging abuse, but it’s proving just as damaging. And if queers don’t fight back — by using the upcoming provincial and federal elections — and show that not only are gays and lesbians parents and children, but voters as well, all those gay rights victories may prove to be only fleeting.