Gay couples left out in the cold
New family law act excludes same-sex couples

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 05/97) - Human rights advocates want to know why same-sex couples aren't considered spouses in proposed family law legislation.

Answers, however, have been hard to come by

At a public hearing on four new family law bills in Inuvik last month, Dale Sharkey, a family counsellor in Inuvik, asked the legislative committee examining the bills about the exclusion of same-sex couples from the Family Law Act.

"I got the feeling that the legislature itself wasn't interested at all," said Sharkey.

"They said it was 'a departmental decision,'" said Andrew Fox, an Inuvik defence lawyer. Fox said he feels the response was inadequate.

According to the proposed Family Law Act, a spouse is considered one of either a man or a woman in a marriage or common-law marriage. However, sexual orientation is one of the grounds of discrimination covered under the Human Right Act.

"You cannot discriminate against someone based on sex," said Bob Fagan, human rights commissioner for the NWT and Alberta.

Fagan also said that cases of discrimination are being challenged in courts across the country, and for the most part, are winning. "The sides claiming discrimination are winning more than losing," said Fagan.

If the proposed family law legislation is passed with the current definition, concerned parties may still have recourse through the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

At the initial review in Yellowknife, April 7, committee member Roy Erasmus questioned Minister of Social Services Kelvin Ng and his team of advisors on the exclusion of same-sex couples from the act.

"It seems as though this bill is recognizing only opposite-sex relationships," said Erasmus.

Ng could offer no direct answer, however. He said only that the definition of spouse was taken from Ontario legislation, which includes only opposite-sex couples and added that the definition would change only in the event of strong public hearing input, or a Supreme Court ruling.