(Pamphlet prepared by CLGRO, August 2000)
Statement from CLGRO’s On Our Own Terms conference, 1989:
All people, regardless of sexual orientation, have the right to determine for themselves their primary personal relationships and to have these relationships supported and recognized in law and by social institutions.
CLGRO statement of principle, 1990:
CLGRO believes that, while our preference would be that benefits be made available on an individual basis (with allowances for the dependence of children, the aged, and the disabled), whenever benefits are made available to heterosexuals living in couples, these same benefits must also be made available to same-sex couples on the same footing.
CLGRO’s Involvement in Relationships Recognition
CLGRO was founded in January 1975 and our first major campaign – lasting 12 years – was to get “sexual orientation” included in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Code was amended in December 1986 so that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals have basic human rights protection in Ontario and discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is prohibited.
The next major issue to emerge was the protection of our relationships, so in 1989 we held a provincial conference, “On Our Own Terms,” to determine what recognition of our relationship we would like and on what terms.
Positions varied from “let’s abolish marriage” all the way through to “let’s live in traditional couples.” Some wanted to be seen as family; some saw the word family as an insult. But the consensus of the conference was simple: that our relationships should be protected in all their diversity. See the final conference statement above.
The need for accurate information was clearly great, and in 1991 the CLGRO working group on relationships recognition, struck at the conference, published the book On Our Own Terms to let those in same-sex relationships know their legal position and what measures they could take to protect their relationships and families. In 1992 the group producedHappy Families, a brief to the Ontario government, which details the discriminatory legislation and calls for a consistent, across-the-board change. CLGRO now maintains constantly updated The Spousal Collection, which details changes in the human rights situation.
In 1992, CLGRO circulated 7,000 pink postcards demanding the immediate amendment of all necessary provincial laws to recognize same-sex spousal relationships; we met with cabinet ministers, Liberal and NDP MLAs.
In 1994, when the (NDP) Ontario government introduced a bill that would have given same-sex relationships most of the rights and duties of common-law heterosexual relationships, CLGRO participated in the founding of, and then worked with, the Campaign for Equal Families to try to get the bill passed. However, the government failed to pass the bill.
The subsequent (PC) government appealed all court decisions favouring equal rights for same- sex relationships. In May 1999 the Canadian supreme court decision in M v H found the Ontario Family Law Act in contravention of the Canadian Charter. In October 1999, the Ontario government changed the law by creating a category “same-sex partner,” parallel to “spouse” (a term reserved for heterosexuals only) or common-law partner.
In April 2000, the federal (Liberal) government passed a bill giving same-sex partners the same status as heterosexual common-law partners, though they had previously passed an act maintaining that marriage is for heterosexuals only.
These changes are based on the equality model, the notion that equal means same, that what is good for heterosexuals is also good for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.
In this political climate, what can be done? Most of the legal changes that have been made have been the result of court decisions, not of a grassroots movement exercising its impact on the legislative process.
CLGRO continues to advocate for change in relationships recognition, for instance as it relates to immigration laws and employment conditions. In our 1997 report, Systems Failure, which looked at the experience of sexual minorities in the healthcare and social services systems of Ontario, the failure of government and the professions to treat our relationships with respect or human dignity is well documented.
How do lesbians, gays, and bisexuals really live?
Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have never lived in the sheltered environment that society provides for heterosexuals. As a result, we have a history of making environments for ourselves while legislation and social customs have provided for the “traditional” nuclear family unit of one man in the workforce, one woman at home, and optional children.
But this “traditional” unit (actually, a comparatively recent tradition) is no longer the norm, even for heterosexual society, where the divorce rate is nearing 50% of all marriages, and has itself regularly been criticised for not being flexible enough to accommodate the way people actually live. In addition, the multicultural society that is Canada needs to take into account the more extended family units of different cultures.
There are no reliable statistics about how lesbians, gays, and bisexuals live. As long as we face discrimination, we will be reluctant to identify ourselves in numbers accurately depicting our representation in Canada’s population.
But it seems clear that we have created a range of lifestyles.
Some live in couples like the heterosexual married couple, with or without children.
A couple living in a fairly traditional relationship but not in the same house will find that they are not eligible for spousal benefits because of residence qualifications.
A couple may live together in an open relationship, or a person may live singly with a variety of partners.
What does the law have to say about this?
In Ontario, Bill 5 (Oct. 1999) nearly gives same-sex couples the same standing as heterosexual common-law couples. (See CLGRO’s leaflet on bill 5.)
Federally, bill C-23 (April 2000) gives same-sex couples the same standing as heterosexual common-law couples.
June 1999, the federal government voted in a heterosexual definition of marriage, excluding “all others.” Marriage is principally covered under federal laws.
Although it is legal (and always was) for same-sex couples to get married in a church, have holy unions, commitment ceremonies, etc – neither the federal nor the provincial government will yet recognize these relationships as existing in law.
If your relationship does not follow the model prescribed by the government, you will have no standing. If you and your lover don’t live under the same roof – no spousal health benefits for you.
If you have more than one significant other, the government will not recognize them.
If you are supporting or living with a dear friend, and have no “spouse,” your friend will not be recognized as a legally significant relationship.
Further, equality in common-law standing has unequal repercussions. Only married (that is, heterosexual) partners automatically inherit each other’s property. Because of homophobia, families are much more likely to contest a will made in a same-sex relationship.
One partner could be cut off welfare because the assessing officer decides that their lover is helping support them. Yet, because of homophobia, the couple may well experience in finding housing or housing assistance.
In the recent M v H decision, a woman was held liable for support payments after a relationship break-up, though she had not been able to claim any benefits during the duration of the relationship.
What Does CLGRO Really Think?
CLGRO, according to its mission statement, is “an organization… committed to working towards feminism and lesbian and gay liberation by engaging in public struggle for full human rights.”
That is to say, we believe that equality is the least that can reasonably be offered to us. But we think that an examination of the ways in which we live may yield alternatives that are more appropriate to us.
Some lesbians, gays, and bisexuals simply want equality. They want to be considered couples on exactly the same terms as heterosexuals. But many of us do not.
This difference could be accommodated by the introduction of a system of registered domestic partnerships, such as those already in place in a number of European countries. Those couples who want to be assessed as couples would then register; those couples who did not register, would not be assessed as couples. People would be given the choice to define for themselves where they stand in the system. Government officials would not be put in the invidious position of deciding for people what the relationships are.
THE CHALLENGE IS WITH US NOW.
We must work out what is best for us and campaign to achieve it. Help CLGRO do this. Work with us in this campaign or support CLGRO so we can go ahead.