National Post

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Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Ontario extends legal rights to same-sex couples
Without fanfare: Homosexuals still denied status as couples
James McCarten
The Canadian Press

TORONTO - With a firm nudge from Canada's highest court, the Ontario government moved grudgingly yesterday to grant same-sex partners the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

The Conservatives introduced a new bill to comply with a Supreme Court of Canada decision in May that same-sex common-law couples are entitled to sue each other for alimony, among other things.

But the Tories chose not to provide what many gays and lesbians say they're really after: status as spouses under Ontario law.

"We have addressed the concern made by the highest court in this country," said Jim Flaherty, the Attorney-General, who tabled the bill without the government's usual fanfare.

"The bill responds to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, while preserving the traditional values of the family by protecting the definition of spouse."

The legislation adds a same-sex category to 67 provincial statutes, including the Ontario Human Rights Code, Mr. Flaherty said.

Mike Harris, the Premier, who has acknowledged his own definition of family doesn't include same-sex couples, almost seemed to apologize for the legislation on Monday.

Mr. Harris said he was simply "obeying the Supreme Court of Canada and upholding the Constitution," adding that gay rights have never been one of the government's priorities.

"The courts have told us we must deal with this ... and we'll comply."

Some gay rights activists will consider the new legislation a slap in the face, said Mariana Valverde, a professor of criminology at the University of Toronto.

"It's like saying to black people, 'Well, the Supreme Court says you're allowed to be in the same bus, but you're going to have to sit in the back,' " she said.

In the Supreme Court case, known as M vs. H, the high court ruled same-sex common-law couples deserved the same entitlements under family law, specifically alimony payments, as heterosexual common-law couples.

"The whole decision was more about spirit and dignity and human rights than it was about anything financial or material," Ms. Valverde said. "I think in this case, the spirit is sort of everything."

Nonetheless, some groups see the change as a move in the right direction.

The Supreme Court ruling, which gave the provinces a Nov. 20 deadline to comply, arose from two lesbian partners who separated after a long-term relationship.

A 50-year-old woman known only as M sued for alimony after the relationship with H ended; the pair settled their financial dispute last year, but their case was appealed by the province as a test.

Shortly after the ruling in May, Ottawa allowed two men who had successfully challenged Nova Scotia's definition of spouse to collect survivor benefits under the Canada Pension Plan Act.

One month later, Quebec adopted a law that provided homosexual couples the same rights as common-law pairs.

British Columbia has already changed several laws -- including one in 1996 that allows adoptions -- and plans to make the rest of the changes in omnibus legislation sometime next year.


(Each link opens a new window)

  • Department of Justice

  • Canadian Human Rights Commission - Sexual Orientation

  • Foundation for Equal Families

    Their proclaimed mandate is mandate is "to achieve equality and recognition for same-sex relationships and associated family rights through legal action and education." Look for updates on their court battles.

  • Copyright Southam Inc.