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February 08, 2000
Same-Sex Legislation is Expected this Week
By Valerie Lawton
OTTAWA—Sweeping legislation to extend legal rights to tens of thousands of same-sex couples across Canada will be introduced in Parliament this week, The Star has learned.
The omnibus legislation covers more than 60 federal statutes, a government source said yesterday.
Homosexual couples would be included under everything from pension to immigration to income tax provisions.
Gay and lesbian groups have been demanding the changes for years.
Activists held a news conference in Ottawa yesterday to present the government with some 6,500 postcards supporting equality for same-sex relationships.
“The time has come for us to assume our place in Canadian society fully recognized as the equals that we are,” said Kim Vance, president of Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere.
Hedy Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, took the unusual step of agreeing to appear on behalf of the government at the news conference to accept a big basket of postcards.
“It isn’t a matter of whether, but when,” said Fry.
“This government has been pretty clear since we came in in 1993 that we have moved forward steadily but surely to ensure that this last bastion of legislative discrimination against a group of Canadians will end.”
The legislation will undoubtedly be controversial—even in Liberal circles.
Some Liberal MPs already have warned they will not support her bill if it goes too far.
Last year, several Liberals voted against giving survivor benefits to the gay and lesbian partners of civil servants.
The justice department has drafted the proposed law so that the word “spouse” still will be reserved for heterosexual married couples, a decision that will temper some of the criticism.
Instead, same-sex couples will be added under the definition of common-law partners. The right to marry will continue to be reserved only for a couple made up of a man and a woman.
A 1998 poll conducted for Ottawa found roughly two-thirds of Canadians believe same-sex couples who have lived together for a year or more should receive the same benefits and obligations as common-law couples.
A smaller number, 59 per cent, support the idea of calling same-sex couples “spouses,” the survey showed.
Various court decisions—including a Supreme Court ruling last year that Ontario’s Family Law Act discriminates against same-sex couples and is unconstitutional—have forced Ottawa to act.
Foundations for Equal Families, another group that took part in the postcard campaign, has also filed legal action against the federal government challenging the unequal definition of spouse in numerous laws.
Justice Minister Anne McLellan is expected to brief the Liberal caucus on her legislation tomorrow. It’s also on the agenda for a cabinet meeting today.
Officials said the bill is scheduled to be introduced Thursday or Friday.
The legislation comes with both up sides and new burdens for Canada’s gay and lesbian couples.
Some of the advantages include the ability to collect pension benefits after the death of a same-sex partner and lower taxes for couples who’d be able to claim the equivalent-to-married credit for supporting a dependant.
The bill covers everything from pensions for judges and civil servants to the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security payments.
On the down side, most homosexual couples would actually have to pay more in tax once the income tax rules change.
That’s because they’d no longer receive some benefits and tax credits, such as the GST credit for lower-income earners, once two partners’ incomes are combined.
As well, some individuals no longer will be eligible to receive certain benefits, like disability pension benefits, because their combined family income would be too high.
It’s not clear how many people will be affected by Ottawa’s planned legal changes.
The next Canadian census, in 2001, will ask people about their sexual orientation for the first time.
The finance department study assumed that 1.6 per cent of couples are gay, which would put the estimate at some 140,000 homosexual couples.
Ontario reluctantly passed its own same-sex legislation in October.
The province acted after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling ordering it to end discriminatory treatment of gays and lesbians, specifically with respect to the Family Law Act, within six months.
Quebec and British Columbia have made similar amendments to their own legislation.
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