Ontario’s “Same-Sex Partner” Law:
Not What We Asked For, But As Good As We Can Get
October 26, 1999
The bill now before the Ontario legislature to amend 67 provincial laws containing “spouse” or similar terms is not what the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO) has sought. For the last 10 years, we have called for the amendment of “spouse” in all applicable provincial laws so that same-sex relationships would be legally recognized. We repeated this call in a meeting with the Attorney General on October 18th. Instead, the legislation introduced by the Harris government creates a new category, “same sex partner”, that grants all of the legal rights and responsibilities to persons in same-sex relationships in the same way as for common-law heterosexual couples.
The term “spouse” has been reserved to heterosexuals, and the Harris government has made clear that it has attempted to preserve “the traditional family”. They also have not changed the definition of either “marital status” or “family”. They have said they are bringing in the legislation only because the Supreme Court made them do it.
The government’s rhetoric and reasoning are offensive, and the legislation is not perfect by any means. But it goes much further than we might have expected from a government led by a party that has strongly opposed rights for lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and which openly appeals to a “family values” constituency. They had several options in respect of responding to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in M v. H, including:
- Do nothing;
- Invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution;
- Amend only the Family Law Act (the particular statute challenged in the M v. H case);
- Amend only some laws, while leaving others unchanged.
That they chose to introduce an omnibus bill that grants legal recognition to same-relationships in 67 Ontario laws, in the circumstances, is a victory.
CLGRO has decided to support the legislation. We also have called for quick passage of the bill and have urged the Liberals and NDP to vote in favour of it.