TORONTO — When Raquel Grand’s wife was in the middle of a difficult childbirth five years ago, Grand realized that if she lost her partner that day she would not have the legal right to take their daughter home from the hospital.
Grand and her wife, who now have two daughters, are one of many LGBTQ families who fought against old Ontario laws that saw same-sex couples often required to adopt their own children.
They cheered the introduction Thursday of a the All Families Are Equal Act, an government bill that would ensure all couples who use assisted reproduction to conceive, including the use of a surrogate, are legally recognized as parents.
It’s “long overdue,” said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.
“It makes sure that all parents and their children are recognized equally in the law, that there are no extra steps or burdens for parents to go through in order to be declared or recognized as the parent of their child,” he said.
Grand said when her wife was hemorrhaging after birth, she wanted to concentrate on her well-being and their newborn baby, but the legal implications were swirling in her head.
“It doesn’t seem right,” she said. “We planned our family beforehand, we did everything responsible like starting RESPs and saving up money for daycare, then we had to use that money to start a legal fight.”
Several families launched a court challenge against the existing legislation, but settled it in June as the government pledged to give them equal rights with Thursday’s legislation.
Donna McDonagh was able to register her daughter as having two mothers on her birth certificate in 2007, but when she and her partner separated, her ex-partner’s lawyer argued she wasn’t legally their child’s parent.
“It was absolutely devastating,” she said. “It was absolutely gut-wrenching. I lost a ton of weight… When I first got served the papers I had to fill out a different affidavit because I’m not a parent. My world crashed.”
McDonagh was ultimately able to get joint custody.
The government’s legislation follows a private member’s bill from New Democrat Cheri DiNovo, who said it was modelled on legislation passed in British Columbia in 2014, and similar bills have been approved in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec.
“Whatever way it happens, we’re just glad it has happened,” DiNovo said Thursday.
Her bill was called Cy and Ruby’s Law, named for the children of Jennifer Mathers McHenry and her wife Kirsti. They too experienced a difficult childbirth.
“There was a moment where Kirsti wasn’t so sure either I was going to come home, and if I didn’t, if she could bring our baby home, so that really drove home the degree to which the law puts families like ours in limbo,” Jennifer Mathers McHenry said.
As lawyers, the couple was aware of the legal struggles they would face, but it was unknown to most other people, she said.
“The number of people whose jaws kind of hit the floor when I said, ‘Well, we have to go to court to make sure that Kirsti’s a legal parent’ was extraordinary,” Mathers McHenry said.
“People in the LGBT community as well as straight people, family members, my colleagues, no one had any idea this rigmarole was necessary and when it was explained to them it just universally struck people as absolutely absurd.”