Oshawa teen Marc Hall won the right to take his boyfriend to prom 20 years ago
Published May 16, 2022 at 3:50 pm
Twenty years ago, Oshawa teen Marc Hall just wanted to dance with his boyfriend at prom.
However, as a student of the Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB), which continues to struggle with LGBT representation, Hall’s request for this now commonplace same-sex dance partner was rejected.
In spring 2002, DCDSB opened calls for student to submit the name of their prom date to the schools. Hall, then an 18-year-old Grade 12 student and openly gay, submitted his boyfriend’s name, Jean-Paul Dumond, then 21.
However, the principal of Monsignor John Pereyma school rejected Hall’s request as incompatible with Roman Catholic teaching. The DCDSB stood behind the principal and refused to reverse the decision.
Hall then took the DCDSB to court on May 6, 2002, arguing the move violated his his right not to be discriminated against under the Ontario Education Act. Hall also argued the board’s refusal of his date violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically under Section 15.
“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability,” read this section.
While not explicitly mentioned in the the Charter, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled to include sexual orientation in the landmark 1995 case Egan v. Canada. A mere seven years before Hall’s case, James Egan, an LGBT activist since 1949, sued the Federal Government because his partner of nearly 40 years was denied Old Age Security spousal benefits.
Egan lost benefit element of his case with the justices ruling spousal benefits were for women who left the workforce to raise children. However, the SCC ruled “The words “of the opposite sex” in the definition of “spouse” specifically exclude homosexual couples from claiming a spousal allowance,” in the words of Justice Peter Cory. This, the Court found, was inherently discriminatory.
The Egan case became a landmark in LGBT rights case upheld by numerous SCC decisions and formed the backbone of the Hall case. “The clear purpose of Section 15 of the Charter is to value human dignity in a free society where difference is respected and equality is valued,” read Justice McKinnon’s summation of the case.
Hall’s argument centred on the definition of homosexuality and even the definition of prom. In highlighting a contrast in treatment between straight and gay couples the filing notes even though pre-marital sex is not permitted in Catholic teaching either, “the school does not inquire into whether students attending the prom have had sex with their dates in the past, whether they intend to do so on prom night, or whether they intend to do so thereafter.”
Hall’s lawyers, who all worked pro bono, also noted that pregnant and unmarried students were able to attend prom,in conflict with Catholic teaching on pre-marital sex.
“Board policy in fact proscribe “homosexual behaviour” and a “homosexual lifestyle” so as to justify prohibiting the plaintiff from attending the prom with his boyfriend,” McKinnon said.
“If individuals in Canada were permitted to simply assert that their religious beliefs require them to discriminate against homosexuals without objective scrutiny,” MacKinnon continued, “there would be no protection at all from discrimination for gays and lesbians in Canada because everyone who wished to discriminate against them could make that assertion.”
“The principal unjustly discriminated against the plaintiff,” MacKinnon concluded. He handed down an injunction forcing the school to allow Hall and Dumond to dance together on May 10, 2002 – Prom night.
While Hall’s victory was hard won with support from his classmates and parents, the case created a massive backlash. Hall told Global News in a 2012 interview, he and his family received so many threats that they needed a police escort.
Hall and Dumond broke up a little while after prom. After graduation, Hall went on to the University of Waterloo, where he earned a Bachelor’s in psychology and later a Master’s in cognitive neuroscience from University College London in the United Kingdom. In his talk with Global, Hall credited this pursuit of science as pulling him away from his previous Catholic faith.
As Hall moved forward, so too did the fight for equal rights for LGBT people, carried on by others after Hall dropped his case in 2005 in the face of a years-long process.
A little more than a year after McKinnon’s injunction in June 2003, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided Halpern v. Canada which ruled the heterosexual-only definition of marriage was unconstitutional under Section 15.
The court gave Ontario two years to fix the definition through legislation. By 2005, marriage equality was protected everywhere but Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Prince Edward Island.
That June the Paul Martin Liberal government passed the Civil Marriages Act by a slim margin of 158 for and 133 against. One of Martin’s cabinet ministers, resigned his post in protest of the bill. He later joined the Conservatives who had nearly unanimously voted against marriage equality.
Despite these gains, full acceptance of LGBT students remains elusive for the Durham Catholic Board and in society as a whole. Just last year the DCDSB adopted the Pride Flag to be flown in June, a move that was mired in controversy and faced fierce opposition from some parents.
The public Durham District School Board is not immune from concerns of a lack of inclusion. Controversy recently erupted after trustee Linda Stone* called a proposed human rights and anti-discrimination policy “dangerous” in January. She resigned her post in the fallout but rescinded that resignation in February.
She came under fire again last week for tweeting “How many pronouns must a teacher remember? If 23 students all have different pronouns and the teacher gets one wrong, would that be grounds for a complaint?”
Despite these recent controversies, both boards continue to work toward inclusion for all. In a memo to trustees from May 25, 2021, the DCDSB cited Catholic Catechism 2358, which asserts that LGBT people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”.
Thanks to Hall’s work and the work of others fighting discrimination mentioned herein, Pride Flags will fly for Pride Month in June, and LGBT students can dance with whomever they choose.
Update – After this article was posted Trustee Linda Stone filed a second resignation in the DDSB in their board meeting. Full story to come.insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies