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Ryerson honours prof who fought against same-sex marriage

Will she wave her honorary degree at the Pride Parade?

Margaret Somerville, the doyenne of Canadian academics opposed to same-sex marriage, will be given an honorary doctorate by Ryerson University — on the first day of Toronto’s Pride Week.

Outraged queer activists say that if the honorary degree can’t be withdrawn, the presentation should at least not occur during Pride.

Somerville, a professor in both the law and medicine faculties at McGill, specializes in the ethics of science and technology, has been particularly outspoken about the issue of same-sex marriage and the risk of harm to children. She is being awarded the degree at the Graduate Studies convocation on Mon, Jun 19.

“A university needs to take a person’s whole record into consideration when they bestow an honorary doctorate,” says Gilles Marchildon, executive director of national lobby group Egale Canada. “Somerville’s views on LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] equality are something that are quite public, so in a sense what Ryerson could be saying is that it doesn’t matter.”

In a 2003 article in the Ottawa Citizen Somerville wrote, “[Same-sex marriage] would also, unavoidably, be a societal declaration that children don’t have any basic right to know who their biological parents are and that they don’t need both a mother and a father. Same-sex marriage makes children’s rights secondary to adults’. It contravenes the ethical principle that children, as the most vulnerable people, must come first.”

In a 2005 Montreal Gazette article, Somerville uses the slippery slope argument, connecting same-sex relationships to incest.

“The laws against consanguineous marriage — marrying a close relative — could also be challenged if marriage has nothing to do with procreation,” wrote Somerville.

Brent Hawkes, pastor at the Metropolitian Community Church Of Toronto, was outraged when he first learned of the honour. After a flurry of phone calls and in particular a discussion with Maurice Yeates, Ryerson’s dean of Graduate Studies, Hawkes has calmed down — somewhat.

“I still think it was a bad decision and a potentially harmful decision,” says Hawkes, who is considering organizing a protest event. “Ryerson needs to do something to counteract the impression that they are honouring homophobia. Ryerson has done good things in the past; this sends a bad message that very much needs to be counteracted.”

Mandy Ridley, summer coordinator for RyePride, Ryerson’s queer students’, says they are planning a response. Ryerson University officials did not respond to Xtra’s calls by press time.