Friday, February 24, 2017

MPP Cheri DiNovo (2nd from left) at the LGBTQ+ Workshop

By Haim Abraham 

On December 5, 2016, Ontario’s Bill 28, termed the All Families Are Equal Act (Parentage and Related Registrations Statute Law Amendment), 2016, received royal assent. The LGBTQ+ Workshop held a session with MPP Cheri DiNovo, who tabled the Bill, and Kirsti and Jennifer Mathers McHenry, whose story prompted its legislation.

When asked what are the Bill’s objectives, MPP DiNovo replied that ‘first and foremost, the Bill grants equality to queer parents.’ And it does indeed. Up until the Bill came into force, a legal loophole existed in the law, which made some LGBTQ+ Families have to apply court to have their parenthood recognized. Kirsti shared their own experience with the Workshop: ‘I went to service Canada to check the status of my request for benefits, with my baby in my arms while I actively parented my child, and asked whether they’d figured out that I’m a parent.” But Kirsti and Jennifer did not receive the benefits, and had to go to court to get Kirsti’s parenthood legally recognized.

The issue stemmed from the emphasis legislation placed on biology – a child could only have a mother and a father, and not two same-sex parents or more than two parents. Bill 28 changed that, and made the law both gender neural – replacing ‘mother’ and ‘father’ with ‘birth parent’ and ‘parent’ – and allowed for the recognition of multiple parents. In this sense, the Bill moved the emphasis from biology to intentions and actual parenting.

“I was truly surprised when people found it offensive to be called a parent and not a mother,” Jennifer recalled. “I said to a women  ‘do you have a husband?’, and she said ‘well yeah.’ And I said ‘the law doesn’t give you that. The law gives you a spouse. The law doesn’t go to the nitty gritty of how you define your relationship.” When asked about the reason why people reacted so strongly to this terminological change, Jennifer answered that ‘the whole mother controversy was an effort to put a radical face on what was already going on. People said we are creating new families, but we’re not. We’re recognizing what already exist.” MPP DiNovo added that ‘we expected multi-parental families will cause the most resistance, but they are not any different than straight couples that divorce and re-marry. Objections to the Bill were really just homophobia and transphobia…the Bill just codified what was already in practice.’

By bridging this gap between the families that existed in practice and the ones that were recognized by law, the Bill saves individuals, as well as the administration, time and money. “The Bill saves a whole lot of tax payers costs,” Kirsti said. “We spent thousands of dollars, and a lot of precious court time, to get a declaration I was a parent.”

But the Bill doesn’t just save costs, it helps to ensure the child’s best interests. Now, a non-biological LGBTQ+ parent can go with her child to the doctor and sign off on life-saving procedures. Furthermore, the Bill provides all parents an equal standing, as Jennifer explains: “before this legislation, if a child had four parents and there was a disagreement about parental rights, two parents could say to the other two – you weren’t real parents. That can’t happen anymore with the new legislation.”