Toronto Star

October 25, 1999

Tories set to move on same-sex legislation

Proposed changes to 67 laws today follows Supreme Court decision

By Caroline Mallan
Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau Chief

The Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris plans to introduce sweeping changes to 67 different provincial laws that will give gay and lesbian couples the same rights - and responsibilities - as heterosexual couples.

The changes, which will be the first item on the agenda when the Legislature gets down to business today, are in response to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in May that gave Ontario six months to comply with its decision that said laws that treat opposite-sex relationships differently from same-sex relationships were unconstitutional.

In the case before the court, known only 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. It essentially struck down Ontario's definition of ``spouse.''

But the bill that Attorney-General Jim Flaherty will introduce today will not change the definition of spouse, but rather add a new ``same-sex partner'' clause to all the affected pieces of legislation.

``The legislation is not going to change the traditional definition of spouse, so spouse will still refer to a heterosexual relationship,'' a government source said.

The government believes that by separating common-law spouse and same-sex partner, but giving them both the exact same rights and obligations, it is still complying with the court's ruling.


`By creating a new definition of same-sex partner, what the government is trying to do is comply with the Constitution and respect the court's ruling, but take pains not to affect the traditional definition of spouse.'
- Government source

``By creating a new definition of same-sex partner, what the government is trying to do is comply with the Constitution and respect the court's ruling, but take pains not to affect the traditional definition of spouse,'' a source familiar with the bill said.

No mention of these changes was made in last week's Speech from the Throne because the Conservative government does not see this as one of their priorities, or even one of their issues.

``The only reason we're doing this is because of the Supreme Court's decision,'' the source said. ``This bill is not on our agenda and were it not for the Supreme Court ruling the attorney-general would not be introducing it.''

Government lawyers worked all summer to identify the laws affected, such as the Family Law Act and laws dealing with pension benefits and conflict of interest disclosure laws for municipal and provincial politicians.

When the ruling was first announced during the provincial election campaign last May, Harris said his government would comply by the Nov. 20 deadline.

M. vs H. initially involved two lesbian partners who separated after a long-term relationship. The 50-year-old woman known only as M. was left destitute after the relationship ended and in turn sued for alimony.

She settled her claim with H. last year after winning in the lower courts, but hers became a test case for the Ontario government to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The high court said it was dealing strictly with the law governing the results of a relationship break-up, not redefining marriage, but it effectively accorded long-term same-sex relationships the same dignity the law accords opposite-sex unions.

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