The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday that a British Columbia school board should not have banned books at the kindergarten and Grade 1 level that depicted same-sex parents.

In a 7-2 ruling, the top court said the school board in Surrey went against provincial legislation that says the public school system is secular and non-sectarian.

The case goes back to 1997, when the school board refused to approve three books for use in kindergarten and Grade 1.

The three books are Asha's Mums, Belinda's Bouquet and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads. The books depicted same-sex parents in a favourable light, triggering complaints from parents who took objection on religious grounds.

James Chamberlain, a primary-level teacher, wanted to use the books in class, even though they are not part of a reading list approved by the B.C. Education Ministry.

The Supreme Court ruling focused on the religious objections, rather than the larger issue of gay and lesbian constitutional rights.

The Surrey board said it ordered the ban because the books were not suitable for five- and six-year olds. The board also said many parents objected to the books because they regard homosexuality as a sin.

But the court said the moral objections of some parents are not a basis for a ban. The court also concluded "tolerance is always age-appropriate," said John Fisher of the group Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere.

"The Supreme Court of Canada today ruled that learning about difference actually enhances children's education, that kids benefit when they learn respect for those who are different," he said.

A trial judge supported Chamberlain in 1998; then the B.C. Court of Appeal reversed the decision in 2000. The appeal court ruled the board could exclude the books from the classroom but have them available in the school library.