Toronto

Same-sex couples push for parental equality in Ontario

Same-sex couples in Ontario say they shouldn't have to adopt their own children or get a legal declaration of parentage, and hope an NDP bill will modernize some outdated regulations.

'It's not right that parents should have to adopt their own children,' says MPP proposing new bill

'So many children and families are the victims of these outdated laws,' family lawyer Joanna Radborn says. (General Mills)

Same-sex couples in Ontario say they shouldn't have to adopt their own children or get a legal declaration of parentage, and hope an NDP bill will modernize some outdated regulations.

New Democrat Cheri DiNovo will introduce a private member's bill this week to make birth registration services available to all LGBTQ families.

"Let's get rid of the red tape and give queer and trans parents the recognition they need to care for their children," said DiNovo. "It's not right that parents should have to adopt their own children, that's the simple reality."

Ontario's Children's Law Reform Act presumes a man and woman will be parents, which led to some troubling times for Kristi Mathers McHenry of Toronto when her wife developed serious heart problems while in labour.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo will bring forward a bill that aims to cut red tape for LGBTQ parents. (Cheri DiNovo's Office)
If her wife had passed away, Mathers McHenry realized she would not have automatically been considered the parent of her newborn daughter.

"As I held her hand in the hospital, I faced not only the possibility that something could happen to my wife, but also the possibility that I might not be able to leave the hospital with our baby," she said.

In the end, mother and daughter were fine, and after leaving hospital, the family went to court to obtain a declaration of parentage.

"Having to go to court and ask a judge to find that it was in my child's best interests for me to be her mother offended my principles, made me feel lesser," said Mathers McHenry. "The legal process was really stressful."

After her son was born in 2014, Mathers McHenry was denied parental leave benefits "because I was not a parent," and again had to go to court for a declaration of parentage.

'The recognition we need'

DiNovo's proposed amendment would "provide greater security to children, and it will give moms like me the ability from day one to take care of our kids and the recognition we need to care for our kids," said Mathers McHenry.

Joanna Radbord, a family lawyer who is preparing a Constitutional challenge of Ontario's birth law, also worked on the case that led to the province's recognition of same-sex marriage 12 years ago. She married her same-sex partner and had a baby, but still had to go to court to be recognized as a family.

"Even though I birthed our child, we had to adopt our own child," said Radbord. "We went to court after that so that lesbian co-mothers could have immediate recognition on their child's birth certificate, and we ostensibly won that case."

An Ontario judge ruled in 2006 that the Children's Law Reform Act and the Vital Statistics Act were "clearly outdated," but nearly 10 years later "and the government has done nothing," said Radbord.

"So many children and families are the victims of these outdated laws."

'Now is the time to act'

Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia have updated their parental recognition laws, but "Ontario has not kept pace with changing times," added Radbord.

"The government has heard time and again that this legislation is unconstitutional that is harming families and children," she said. "Now is the time to act."

Private member's bills rarely become law, but Premier Kathleen Wynne said the Liberal government would "certainly be willing to consider" DiNovo's legislation.

"This is a matter of the bureaucratic process catching up with attitudes," said Wynne. "So I think it's an interesting bill."

DiNovo said she hoped all three parties would quickly agree to adopt her bill and save families and taxpayers the needless expense of dealing with parental issues through the courts.

"That money should go into an educational fund in the case of parents, but our money as taxpayers should be going into education instead of fighting parents who simply want their own children to be their own children," she said.

The Ontario Legislature recently gave all-party approval to a motion requiring that all government forms use gender neutral terminology and replace the words "mother or father" with "parent or guardian."

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