Recognition of the human rights of gays and lesbians has made remarkable progress in the last decade. Ten years ago most human rights laws, including the CHRA, did not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Pension and health benefits for same-sex partners were almost unheard of. Federal and provincial laws denied same-sex partners the advantages, such as income tax credits, available to opposite-sex partners. Most of this has changed for the better.
One major issue remains to be resolved: marriage. In October 2001, the British Columbia Supreme Court, in the case of Egale Canada Inc. v. Canada, rendered a decision on a constitutional challenge to the prohibition against the marriage of same-sex couples. The Court acknowledged that it is discriminatory to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. However, it went on to say that the discrimination is acceptable because marriage is a deep-rooted institution established to provide a structure to raise children. Legislators, not judges, should resolve this matter, the Court said. This case was under appeal at the end of 2001. In the fall of 2001, similar cases were being heard by courts in Ontario and Quebec.
In 2000, Parliament passed legislation treating same-sex partners the same as legally married and common-law couples for all purposes of federal law. But legislators included a provision stating that the legislation did not change the definition of marriage as the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
In Nova Scotia, legislation was recently passed to allow for the registration of domestic partnerships of same-sex couples. Similar legislative changes are being considered in other provinces.
The Law Commission of Canada, early in 2002, released a report stating that there is no justification for maintaining the current distinctions between same-sex and heterosexual conjugal unions… If governments are to continue to maintain an institution called marriage, they cannot do so in a discriminatory fashion.
The Commission agrees. It recognizes and respects that for many, marriage is a sensitive issue bound with deeply felt religious beliefs and cultural practices. It is, nevertheless, also a reality that there are many gay and lesbian Canadians living today in long-term committed relationships, caring for each other, and raising families together. They are entitled to respect and dignity and should be afforded the same recognition in law as opposite-sex couples.
Excerpt from the “Annual Report 2001″ published by the Canadian Human Rights Commission