Tribunal Rules LGBTQ Group’s Discrimination Complaint Against Parish Can Proceed

Ernie Klassen of the White Rock Pride Society outside Star of the Sea Church’s hall

A Canadian tribunal has ruled that an LGBTQ organization’s human rights complaint against a Catholic parish can proceed. The lawsuit centers on the parish’s refusal to rent its community space to the LGBTQ group for a fundraising event.

According to the North Delta Reporter, Star of the Sea Parish, White Rock, British Columbia asked the tribunal to dismiss a sexual orientation discrimination suit filed against it by the White Rock Pride Society (WRPS) of South Surrey-White Rock. Bondings 2.0 previously reported that WRPS filed the human rights complaint after the parish refused WRPS to hold its annual fundraiser benefitting LGBTQ youth and seniors, “Love is Love,” on parish property.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will adjudicate the complaint during a formal hearing, though the date for that hearing has not been scheduled.

James Borkowski, who oversees operations for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, explained the parish’s rejection of the fundraiser, as paraphrased last year by Peach Arch News:

“The decision to deny the event application was made because the event would be contrary to the teachings on faith and morals of the Catholic church.”

Kathleen Smith, a member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, provided various reasons why the suit should proceed, as summarized by the North Delta Reporter:

“…she was not persuaded by the Star of the Sea that the Pride Society has no reasonable prospect for success in its human rights complaint.”

Despite the Tribunal’s conclusion, Smith acknowledged that the parish articulated a “‘compelling argument’ about the need to protect religious spaces.” Explaining further, she wrote:

“‘In the Parish’s view, requiring it to facilitate and tacitly support and encourage an event directly contrary to their religious teachings and beliefs on sexual morality, would amount to a disproportionate interference in the religious freedoms of the Parish.’”

Turning to the arguments presented by the WRPS, Smith explored the distinction between homosexual acts versus sexual identity, and emphasized the church’s lack of communication with the LGBTQ organization to resolve its concerns:

“‘The Society points to evidence that the Catholic Church does not condemn homosexuals, only the homosexual act. It says the Parish did not make any effort to communicate with representatives of the Society to resolve whether its concerns with the proposed fundraiser event… could be addressed by the society.'”

Smith also underscored that Star of the Sea Parish had accepted event venue applications from other non-Catholic groups, and she highlighted the need to fully understand the broader purpose of WRPS’s mission and goals:

“‘This case is complicated, however, by the fact that the Parish makes a part of its space available to those outside of its Catholic community.  I agree with the Society that a determination about reasonable accommodation short of undue hardship requires the careful examination (of) complex and nuanced issues, including the meaning of Pride, as well as the competing rights of the parties in this case. In my view, these issues cannot be determined on this application and require a full hearing.'”

Seeing a judicial body analyze an LGBTQ discrimination complaint with a robust human rights lens and a thoughtful exploration of the social justice issues at hand is powerfully important. Equally important, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal also appreciates the nuances of religious expression and applies the same human rights perspective to this Catholic parish. In contrast, it is puzzling how the Archdiocese of Vancouver determined that a fundraiser to benefit LGBTQ youth and seniors somehow runs contrary to Catholic social teaching. Unfortunately, such behavior by church leadership will continue as long as they view LGBTQ equality as an issue of sexuality rather than a human rights imperative falling squarely within the mandate of Catholic social teaching.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, June 8, 2020

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