By John-Henry Westen
The Ontario government passed legislation giving gays and lesbians the same rights as common-law spouses Oct. 27 only two days after the bill was introduced. Pro-family groups across the country reacted with horror as "the Tories completely sold out social conservatives," to cite Peter Stock of the Canadian Family Action Coalition. Not only was public debate avoided by the hastened passage of the bill, but accountability to the Ontario public was abandoned when this revolutionary law was passed without a recorded vote.
The stunning swiftness of the passage of the legislation is augmented by the seriousness of the issues involved. Although much more careful analyses are required to bring to light the new law's full implications, Gwen Landolt of REAL Women Canada, told LifeSite that it affords practicing homosexuals full adoption rights. Stock said, "I can't think of anything more anti-family" than "purposefully depriving the weakest members of society of a father or a mother."
Furthermore, Landolt points out that religious organizations, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim would be forced by the legislation to provide benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees. Statutes in the Ontario Human Rights Code already forbid discrimination in hiring practices against practicing homosexuals unless they are in "bona fide" positions (i.e. teachers, but not support staff).
The fact that the bill went through first reading one day and second and third reading two days later left no opportunity for public reaction or debate on the issue. In fact, major pro-family groups were caught off-guard when LifeSite called for comments, not realizing that the legislation had already been passed. Moreover, the actual bill was not released to the public until the very day of its passage despite numerous requests.
Landolt, a lawyer, said that due to the length of the bill it would take at least a week of full time work to sort out all the legislation's ramifications. Considering the delayed access to the legislation and the extraordinarily fast passage, Landolt commented that "this was a revolution without public debate or public knowledge."
Even one of the Tory MPP's admitted to LifeSite that he "never anticipated that it would pass that fast." Wayne Wettlaufer (PC, Kitchener-Centre) said that he was not in the legislature at the time of the debate and mentioned that many other MPPs were not present at the late night session since no one suspected the legislation would be passed without debate.
Dr. Janet Buckingham of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) said that "it is extremely discouraging since the people of Ontario wanted to have a say in this issue." Stock accused Ontario legislators of "cowardice." Steve Jalsevac of Campaign Life Coalition said that "Ontarians have got to be wondering why we bother voting for our own MPP, since the Harris government is such a Chretien-type cabinet dictatorship that sets the entire agenda and expects the caucus to always meekly follow."
Dr. Buckingham, general legal counsel for the EFC told LifeSite that the Ontario legislation went "farther than what was necessary by quite a bit." She explained that the M v. H ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada required that homosexual partners be able to sue for "spousal" support after the breakdown of relationships.
Jim Sclater of Focus on the Family Canada noted also that the "government had other alternatives open to them and suggested to them." Landolt argued that the Tories had at least three options they could have implemented that were less offensive to pro-family groups.
1. The Tories could have allowed the Supreme Court's ruling to take effect on May 20 which would have meant that the Family Law Act would apply only to married couples and common-law couples would have to apply for benefits.
2. They could have established a domestic partnership where all dependent couples living together could apply to be recognized for benefits.
3. All economically dependent couples living together could have been asked to make a claim for benefits in the courts.
A fourth option could have been to maintain the current law by using the "notwithstanding clause." Wettlaufer, however, told LifeSite that "Premier Mike Harris does not believe the clause should be in the constitution and will not use it under any circumstances." Constitutional experts note that the rule of law exists in democratic countries to keep legislators accountable to an objective standard rather than running the country on the basis of their own whims. Regardless of the Premier's personal views, the notwithstanding clause is in the Constitution, and was placed there for situations such as this.
Pro-family forces are not alone in saying that the government went further than the Supreme Court required. Kyle Rae, a homosexual activist and a Toronto city councillor, said in the Globe and Mail: "This is tremendously important legislation - very exciting. The Ontario government went further than it had to go."
Pro-family groups feel a strong sense of betrayal from Ontario's so-called conservative government. The deception used by the government compounds the anger. As if it was a significant point, the Attorney-General notes that, "the rights and obligations that are unique to married couples are not being extended to same-sex partners." Lawyers contacted by LifeSite indicate that the only rights withheld from common-law couples as opposed to married couples deal with the separation of property at death or breakup, and other concerns which are relatively minor compared to adoption rights. Commenting on the bill, Stock said "a spouse in everything but name is a spouse just the same."
He added that it is "clear [that] the PC's can't represent social conservatives any more." He predicted a coming together of disaffected pro-family politicians from all parties to provide a viable social conservative alternative.