Toronto Star

May 21, 1999

Ontario's 3 leaders will honour new ruling

Premier not sure how many laws need changes

By William Walker, Rob Ferguson and Daniel Girard
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

Ontario will abide by a controversial Supreme Court of Canada ruling on gay rights, all three party leaders in the June 3 provincial election say.

In Niagara Falls yesterday, Premier Mike Harris said he will comply with the ruling even though he doesn't personally believe the definition of family should include same-sex couples. Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said in Toronto he supports the court decision ``fully,'' and it was in the party platform anyway. But he stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriages.

And New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton, whose party has long supported the principle of same-sex rights, called the ruling progressive and overdue.

In an 8-1 decision yesterday, the highest court in the land struck down the heterosexual definition of ``spouse'' in Ontario family law.

The ruling clears the way for gays to win alimony from each other.

The written ruling also warned it ``may well affect numerous other statutes that rely upon a similar definition of the term `spouse.' ''

Federal and provincial laws contain hundreds of references to spouses, ranging from adoption and marriage to pensions and taxes.

The Harris government brought the case to the Supreme Court and the Premier said he'd accept defeat.

``It's not my definition of family, but it is others' and the courts have ruled that it is constitutional,'' the Progressive Conservative leader told reporters.

``My family is Janet and I and two great kids . . . and that's our family. There are other definitions and the Constitution has ruled that, for constitutional purposes and for alimony benefits, they qualify too.''

The Premier said he's not certain whether all Ontario laws that use the word ``spouse,'' including those that deal with adoption, will now need to be amended.

``I haven't even seen the ruling and I'm not sure how far-reaching the implications are. But the lawyers will be looking at it and we'll respect the Constitution.''

Harris said there wasn't any serious consideration given to invoking the notwithstanding clause, which would have allowed Ontario to overrule the court decision.

``I'm not a fan of the notwithstanding clause at the best of times,'' he said.

``We'll have to conform to the law. I'm a big believer in the Constitution. If people think something is wrong, then you change the Constitution as challenging as that is,'' he said.

``But in my conversations with the other premiers I've talked to, they indicated they'll comply. . . . I think across the country governments will comply.''

Harris admitted the issue of same-sex rights has not been a priority of his government, which he said has focused instead on building the economy.

McGuinty said he supports yesterday's ruling even though he voted against legislation in the early 1990s that would have established same-sex spousal benefits.

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