Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says provincial laws defining parents as a man and a woman are outdated and announced Tuesday her government will bring in new legislation in September giving same-sex parents the same rights as heterosexual parents.
Ms. Wynne wants the definition changed by the end of the year to "ensure that parents are clearly recognized in Ontario, whether they be gay, straight, and whether their children are conceived with or without assistance," she said.
Changing the laws would bring Ontario in line with British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, all of which have similar birth-registration legislation in place.
For lesbian couples in Ontario, the birth mother is automatically deemed a parent, but her partner has to go to court to get that status. Same-sex couples have to adopt their own children or get a court order declaring their status as parents for that to be shown on their child's birth registration.
This process can take months, involve affidavits and cost thousands of dollars. It is also humiliating for the same-sex couple to have to actually adopt a child one of them gave birth to, and it is sometimes confusing for their child.
Same-sex parents and advocates in the province have been pushing for change. NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo introduced a private member's bill last year that would modernize the definition of parents and get rid of the red tape involved for same-sex parents.
Premier Wynne's comments on Tuesday prompted some suspicion from those who believe the private members' bill, which unanimously passed second reading late last year, could be easily brought into law right now.
"I don't get the stalling," Ms. DiNovo said. "This is basic equality."
As well, the Ontario government has been fighting in court a case involving nine LGBTQ families with seven children between them, who are arguing the law as it is now is unconstitutional.
In her comments Tuesday, Ms. Wynne noted the work done by Ms. DiNovo and said the government would work with the MPP to draft the government's bill. She made no reference to the court case.
But late Tuesday, the Attorney-General's Office issued a statement saying it has asked the applicants to consent to an adjournment given Ontario's commitment to legislative reform. It said the government intends to seek an adjournment of the constitutional challenge in order to let the legislative process run its course.
Attorney-General Madeleine Meilleur told reporters Ms. DiNovo's bill, which would update the Children's Law Reform Act and the Vital Statistics Act, needs to be reworked.
Ms. DiNovo brought in her bill as a result of the situation of Kirsti and Jennifer Mathers McHenry. The married couple have two children – Ruby, 5, and Cy, 1. Ms. DiNovo named her bill after them: Cy and Ruby's Act.
Kirsti Mathers McHenry did not give birth to the children, and so was not recognized as their parent when they were born. She and her wife wanted to be recognized together as parents on the birth registration – and that meant months of bureaucracy and paperwork, and about $10,000 to apply to the courts for a declaration acknowledging the parental relationship. The couple used a sperm donor, who also had to go to a lawyer as a part of the process.
But more than that was the fact that there were some complications during Jennifer Mathers McHenry's labour with their daughter, Ruby.
"I just had these waves of panic flooding over me," Kirsti Mathers McHenry recalled. "My first wave of panic was what if … my wife dies? Then your second wave of panic was what if I can't take the baby out of the hospital? What if I can't take care of our child if something happens to Jenn? For me, that was one of the worst moments of this process."
"I would have no legal rights. I was not a parent. I was a legal stranger to our daughter," she added.
She says she is "cautiously optimistic" about the Premier's announcement Tuesday, and pleased that there is a timeline that does not involve months of consultation. Still, she is not clear exactly what the government's final bill will look like.
Joanna Radbord is the lawyer fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ parents in Grand v. (Ontario) Attorney-General. She says it's not fair to ask these families to wait for the new legislation.
"These children and families cannot wait while this discrimination continues," she said. "The Premier admits it's discriminatory and outdated, so why not change it now?"
She and her spouse have two boys – 12 and 7. Ms. Radbord gave birth to both of them, yet she and her wife had to adopt them so that they would both be their legal parents.
"A lot of people don't want to do an adoption because of the offence to dignity of having to adopt their own child," Ms. Radbord said. "I agree it is completely offensive to dignity, but that's what we did because it was the fastest thing to do at the time."
However, she says now that she didn't realize the impact it has had on one of their sons, who questioned why he was adopted.
Premier Wynne's announcement came at an event of the gay-rights group, Egale, and just a day before the beginning of Pride Month.