Volume 91, Issue 30

Wednesday, October 22, 1997

Suzuki side kick


Same-sex wants same laws

By Ciara Rickard
Gazette Staff

"We're not going to take it anymore!" is a phrase that could define the gay rights movement.

In the last three to five years, such a rallying cry has reached an almost feverish pitch. Some hurdles have been overcome, but much of the battle lies ahead. The courts have been inundated with requests for same-sex marriages, spousal benefits, the legal right to adopt children and other rights not accorded to gays and lesbians under the law.

As a result, the government is starting to realize some changes are going to have to be made. "Most provinces are reviewing the statutes to see what needs to be done," says Gerald Vandezande, national public affairs director for the Citizens for Public Justice. "B.C. is, in some respects, the furthest advanced. They have been making some changes there recently to give gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt children."

Presently, British Columbia is the only province to legally allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt children – something which has been allowed in Ontario in certain cases but legislation has not been changed accordingly. The laws regarding benefits and adoption vary across Canada since they are governed by provincial legislation. Same-sex marriages are not legal in any part of Canada.

There is no gay/lesbian marriage which is legal; that's why we are advocating legislation to formal recognition of domestic partnerships, Vandezande explains. "In certain cases, rights have been granted to gay and lesbian couples but there is no actual legislation."

Much of the progress in obtaining legal rights for gays and lesbians has been a result of individual cases; otherwise, little has been done in terms of major legislative changes. "Right now the only way to get rights is through litigation," he adds.

The focus at the moment is mainly on marriage and family and is a fairly contentious area. Kirsten Thompson a member of Queen's Law Bisexuals, Lesbians and Gays, says the laws are not being changed partly because the government does not want to take the risk of legislation.

Right next door to B.C., however, the picture is quite different. "Alberta is going nowhere," Thompson says. "There was a woman there who lost custody of her foster children because she was a lesbian – they don't recognize any rights for gays and lesbians."

In Ontario there's been progress and several successes among some of the more major cases regarding gay and lesbian rights. For example, Thompson cited the recent case in Toronto of a woman wanting to claim insurance after her partner was killed in an accident. She took the case to court and was recognized for her right to death benefits.

"The progress has slowed down. We have a conservative supreme court right now and we're pretty much limited to going through the courts to get any rights. There have been some successes and each decision sets a precedent so we want as many positive verdicts as possible," explains Thompson.

Laurel Broten, a lawyer at the Goodman and Carr law firm in Toronto, says there are many limitations on same-sex couples, simply because they are not married. There are over 70 statutes that use the word spouse and apply to such benefits as Blue Cross coverage, old age pension, insurance and so on.

"Recently, an important case dealt with issues of spousal support and provincial recognition of same-sex relationships," notes Broten. She also cites a not-so-successful case regarding old age spousal allowance, Egan V. Ontario, where the decision was not in their favour.

Despite the success of these cases and others, the law still poses a major obstacle for same-sex couples pursuing benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples. It is difficult for most people to even attempt to gain these rights due to the enormous cost and amount of time.

"I think the progress has been significant," Broten comments. "There have been many important successes, but until there are sweeping legislative changes, we still have a lot of work to do."

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Copyright The Gazette 1997