Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 13:30:57 EDT
TORONTO STAR (Canada)
1. Same-sex ruling to rewrite many laws; Top court says gay couples to be
recognized as legal spouses
2. What the Judges said
3. Party leaders bow to ruling
4. Toronto gays euphoric
5. Editorial - Landmark judgment on gay rights
TORONTO STAR, May 21, 1999
Toronto, Ontario Canada
(E-MAIL: email@example.com ) ( http://www.thestar.ca )
Same-sex ruling to rewrite many laws
Top court says gay couples to be recognized as legal spouses
By Tonda MacCharles and Tracey Tyler, Toronto Star Staff Reporters
OTTAWA - A landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada recognizing
same-sex spousal support will force federal and provincial governments to
rewrite hundreds of laws, gay rights activists say.
In a long-awaited decision released yesterday, the country's top
court ruled that Ontario's definition of ``spouse'' - which applies only to
heterosexual couples - violates the equality guarantees in the Charter of
Rights by discriminating against gays and lesbians.
David Corbett, a lawyer for the Foundation for Equal Families - which
is challenging 58 federal laws in a case before the Ontario Superior Court -
said there are about 1,000 laws across Canada that discriminate against
In Ontario alone, some 90 laws may require amendments.
At issue were provisions in the Family Law Reform Act regarding
support payments after the break-up of couples.
Writing for the majority in an 8-1 decision, Justices Peter Cory and
Frank Iacobucci ruled that such discrimination cannot be justified because it
undermines the very purpose of the law - to ease financial hardship for needy
individuals after a break-up, and to shift the burden of support off the
public welfare system and leave it with individuals who have the capacity to
help their ex-partners.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
Excerpts from yesterday's judgment
`Human dignity is violated by the definition'
The following are excerpts from a Supreme Court decision released
yesterday that said same-sex couples should have the same rights as
The majority decision, which knocked down the definition of spouse in
Ontario's Family Law Act, was written by Justice Peter Cory and Justice Frank
The vote was 8-1. ``First, individuals in same-sex relationships face
significant pre-existing disadvantage and vulnerability, which is exacerbated
by the impugned legislation.
Second, the legislation at issue fails to take into account the
claimant's actual situation.
Third, there is no compelling argument that the ameliorative purpose
of the legislation does anything to lessen the charge of discrimination in
Fourth, the nature of the interest affected is fundamental, namely
the ability to meet basic financial needs following the breakdown of a
relationship characterized by intimacy and economic dependence.
The exclusion of same-sex partners from the benefits of the spousal
support scheme implies that they are judged to be incapable of forming
intimate relationships of economic interdependence, without regard to their
Taking these factors into account it is clear that the human dignity
of individuals in same-sex relationships is violated by the definition of
``spouse'' in section 29 of the Family Law Act.''
PARTY LEADERS BOW TO RULING
Ontario's 3 leaders will honour new ruling
Premier not sure how many laws need changes
By William Walker, Rob Ferguson and Daniel Girard
Toronto Star Staff Reporters
Ontario will abide by a controversial Supreme Court of Canada ruling
on gay rights, all three party leaders in the June 3 provincial election say.
In Niagara Falls yesterday, Premier Mike Harris said he will comply
with the ruling even though he doesn't personally believe the definition of
family should include same-sex couples. Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said
in Toronto he supports the court decision ``fully,'' and it was in the party
platform anyway. But he stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriages.
And New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton, whose party has long
supported the principle of same-sex rights, called the ruling progressive and
In an 8-1 decision yesterday, the highest court in the land struck
down the heterosexual definition of ``spouse'' in Ontario family law.
The ruling clears the way for gays to win alimony from each other.
The written ruling also warned it ``may well affect numerous other
statutes that rely upon a similar definition of the term `spouse.' ''
Federal and provincial laws contain hundreds of references to
spouses, ranging from adoption and marriage to pensions and taxes.
The Harris government brought the case to the Supreme Court and the
Premier said he'd accept defeat.
``It's not my definition of family, but it is others' and the courts
have ruled that it is constitutional,'' the Progressive Conservative leader
``My family is Janet and I and two great kids . . . and that's our
family. There are other definitions and the Constitution has ruled that, for
constitutional purposes and for alimony benefits, they qualify too.''
The Premier said he's not certain whether all Ontario laws that use
the word ``spouse,'' including those that deal with adoption, will now need
to be amended.
``I haven't even seen the ruling and I'm not sure how far-reaching
the implications are. But the lawyers will be looking at it and we'll respect
Harris said there wasn't any serious consideration given to invoking
the notwithstanding clause, which would have allowed Ontario to overrule the
``I'm not a fan of the notwithstanding clause at the best of times,''
``We'll have to conform to the law. I'm a big believer in the
Constitution. If people think something is wrong, then you change the
Constitution as challenging as that is,'' he said.
``But in my conversations with the other premiers I've talked to,
they indicated they'll comply. . . . I think across the country governments
Harris admitted the issue of same-sex rights has not been a priority
of his government, which he said has focused instead on building the economy.
McGuinty said he supports yesterday's ruling even though he voted
against legislation in the early 1990s that would have established same-sex
TORONTO GAYS EUPHORIC
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
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
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
``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.
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
``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
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
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.
Landmark judgment on gay rights
The country's highest court has dealt a powerful blow to the
discriminatory attitudes of a bygone era.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday that homosexual couples
who split up have exactly the same legal rights and obligations as partners
of the opposite sex.
In a landmark 8-to-1 decision, the court said it is unconstitutional
to deny a gay or lesbian spouse the right to seek alimony. The court gave the
Ontario government six months to re-write its Family Law Act to extend full
legal protection to same-sex couples.
This ruling builds on a ground-breaking judgment, a year ago, in
which the Supreme Court ruled that gays and lesbians must be guaranteed the
same basic rights as other citizens. That decision forced the Alberta
government to protect homosexuals from discrimination under its human rights
It is a shame that governments have to be dragged, kicking and
screaming, into granting legal equality to their citizens, 14 years after
Canada's Charter of Rights took effect.
Whether politicians approve of the lifestyle of same-sex couples is
irrevelant. The Charter guarantees every individual the right to ``equal
protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.''
Fortunately, Canada's courts have a strong record of defending equality
Yesterday's ruling ended a seven-year legal battle involving the
break-up of two Toronto women who had lived and worked together for more than
The judgment came too late for the former partners, known as ``M''
They reached a financial settlement last year. But both women wanted
the rights of homosexual ex-partners clarified in law.
They wouldn't have had to go all the way to the Supreme Court if
legislators had passed a bill introduced by former premier Bob Rae in 1994,
designed to eliminate legislative discrimination against same-sex couples.
Rae recognized that it was time to act, after two lower courts struck
down Ontario's spousal law. But his attempt to bring Ontario's laws into
conformity with the Charter of Rights was defeated in the Legislature.
When the Conservatives took power in 1995, they decided to appeal the
case to the Supreme Court. To almost no one's surprise, it upheld the two
lower court decisions.
Now, the government of Ontario has no choice. It must amend its
Family Law Act and it will probably have to change the definition of spouse
in at least 50 other laws.
It is incumbent on whoever wins the June 3 election to get at this
task without delay or excuses.
The New Democrats have the best record on this issue. The Liberals,
after stumbling badly on gay rights in the last election, are now committed
to introducing legislation enshrining the rights of same-sex couples. The
Conservatives have aggressively resisted any extention of gay rights.
Although the Supreme Court ruling applies only to Ontario, it has
implications for the federal government and the eight other provinces which
have yet to guarantee gay and lesbian couples the same rights as heterosexual
spouses. (British Columbia is the only province that has done so.)
Changing outdated laws doesn't wipe out intolerance.
But it makes life tougher for unenlightened governments.