Toronto Star

May 21, 1999

Toronto's gay community euphoric over court's ruling

By Sara Jean Green
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

When John Jones' first live-in lover walked out on him after three years, he was left with nothing.

``He came home one day and said, `I'm leaving in three days,' '' recalled the 30-year-old bartender, chatting with regulars at Woody's, a bar on Church St.

``I worked and was the main breadwinner, but everything was in his name. I (ended up) with the clothes on my back.''

Jones and countless others like him will now have the same recourse as heterosexual couples since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Ontario's definition of ``spouse,'' clearing the way for gays to win alimony from each other.

Premier Mike Harris and the party leaders seeking to replace him in the June 3 election have all said they will abide by the ruling.

``I'm shocked. It's so cool - I can't believe it went through,'' said Jones.

Reaction was euphoric in Toronto's gay community.

But the mood was tempered by realism - prejudice isn't going to be wiped out with one court decision - and the realization of sweeping implications.

Same-sex couples may have protection under the law, but attitudes towards gay and lesbian marriages, adoptions, inheritances and a host of other issues won't change overnight.

``I think the complete ramifications will take quite a while, even a generation, and then we'll see some major changes,'' said Bill Dadson, leaning against the bar at Woody's. Dadson, 53, thinks the new legislation will force a fundamental change in the way gay men think about and enter into relationships.

``Straight relationships have always had an infrastructure so that when you're entering a relationship, both people know their rights and obligations,'' he said. ``Gay relationships don't work that way.''

Lesbian women, particularly those with children, have always been more cautious about starting relationships than their male counterparts, said one woman sipping beer on the Village Rainbow patio on Church St., who identified herself only as Anne.


`I think the complete ramifications will take quite a while, even a generation, and then we'll see some major changes. Straight relationships have always had an infrastructure so that when you're entering a relationship, both people know their rights and obligations.'
- Bill Dadson

The 50-year-old divorced mother of two - who lost custody of her children because she was gay - called the ruling ``a wake-up call.''

``Our society is changing. It's not so much of an `Aha, we won,' but a `Thank you, finally,' '' she said, noting that 20 years ago it was illegal to be homosexual.

``This is the first step of many. It shouldn't have had to go to the Supreme Court, but it did,'' she said, pointing to 1994 same-sex rights legislation introduced by the NDP government that was swept off the table when the Conservatives took power.

``Politicians won't change the law, but they will react and hop on the bandwagon because . . . they're no longer under pressure from their voters.''

Anne's friend, accountant Pat Barlow, 43, equated discrimination against same-sex couples with the 1950s prejudice against interracial unions.

``People were beat up and chased out of their homes and that's what gays have been fighting in the '90s,'' she said. ``Society is now more accepting of interracial families and they're teaching kids through the schools not to be against children of those unions.

``Now, they need to teach them not to pick on kids from same-sex families.''

The decision could mean that hundreds of provincial and federal laws with similar definitions may have to be rewritten.

``Spouses get special treatment not just in family law, but in all sorts of other law too,'' said Ian Brodie, political science professor at the University of Western Ontario.

``The consequences here are substantial,'' he said.



With files from Canadian Press

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