Ontario to change law by year end to legally recognize same-sex parents

The Pride flag hangs from the flagpole in front of the Ontario legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, June 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — The definition of parents in Ontario – described as a man and a woman – will soon change, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday as she promised to fix the “outdated” laws that require same-sex couples to adopt their own children.

The provincial laws “do not reflect our views on who can form a family,” Wynne told the gay rights group EGALE.

“I am committed to fixing this,” she said. “I want to see this definition changed in Ontario by the end of this year.”

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Wynne said she knows how important the issue is for the “LGBTQ-plus community,” saying “it’s about acceptance for all families” regardless of their makeup.

“I have asked the attorney general to bring forward legislation in September that would, if passed, ensure that parents are clearly recognized in Ontario, whether they be gay or straight, and whether their children are conceived with or without assistance,” she said.

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New Democrat Cheri DiNovo introduced a private member’s bill last year to make birth registration services available to all LGBTQ families, saying it’s not right that parents should have to adopt their own children.

DiNovo is pleased the Liberals finally decided to act on the issue, but said same-sex couples would get their parental rights more quickly if the government adopted her legislation, which already received second reading.

READ MORE: NDP bill would update Ontario’s parental registration law for LGBTQ parents

Her bill was modelled on legislation passed in British Columbia in 2014, and similar bills have been approved in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, added DiNovo.

“Four other provinces have already done this. I don’t understand the holdup,” she said Tuesday. “It’s not rocket science.”

Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur said DiNovo’s bill would have had unintended consequences that would impact the rights of other parents, but she didn’t elaborate.

“The draft bill that is before the house needs to be worked on because it seems like it’s going to be negative towards other families,” said Meilleur.

“We’ll work collaboratively, but we want to make sure we have the right bill right from the beginning.”

DiNovo said Meilleur’s comments reflect the same old arguments used in the past to deny gay and lesbian people their rights.

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“I can’t imagine what that negative impact would be,” she said.

Wynne promised the Liberal government would work with DiNovo to draft a bill that is consistent with the veteran New Democrat’s work on the file.

An Ontario judge ruled in 2006 that the Children’s Law Reform Act was “clearly outdated,” but it still hasn’t been updated, forcing some gay and lesbian couples to go to court to be legally recognized as parents of their own children.

DiNovo said at the very least, the government should stop fighting nine same-sex families in court as they push to be recognized as parents.

DiNovo’s bill, known as Cy and Ruby’s Act, was named after the children of Toronto lawyer Kirsti Mathers McHenry.

McHenry’s wife developed serious heart problems while in labour, and if she had died, McHenry would have had no legal right to take her newborn baby home.

Fortunately, both mother and daughter were fine, but McHenry still had to go to court to obtain a declaration of parentage.

The Ontario Legislature gave all-party approval last year to a motion requiring that all government forms use gender neutral terminology and replace the words “mother or father” with “parent or guardian.”

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