The Ontario legislative assembly just unanimously passed The All Families Are Equal Act, a new family law that offers a more inclusive understanding of what makes 'family.' This much-anticipated legal reform marks a leap forward in Ontario's recognition of a broader range of families.
The Act contains many innovative reforms including a de-gendering of language from mother/father to parent, protection for non-biological parents and, for the first time, the possibility to include more than two parents on a child's birth registration. Yet this leap forward is haunted by the ghosts of a recent past where LGBTQ2S people were both denied the right to have children and had children taken away from them.
Prior to the mid-1990s, it was not uncommon for LGBTQ2S people to lose custody of their children, with children sometimes forcibly removed from their homes. These painful injustices, where homes became battlefields and gender and sexuality were used against LGBTQ2S parents, remain in our consciousness, even as we move to expand understandings of what makes "family".
In the 1970's and 1980's LGBTQ2S parents gained a degree of visibility, often as a result of painful custody cases where lesbians and gay men were dragged to court to defend their right to parent. It was argued that they were "unfit parents," potentially harmful to their children. Many children were removed from their homes.
Recognition of trans parents, non-biological parents or multiple-parent families was not an option, and many had to hide their identities and family structures. It remains true today that being legally unrecognized as a parent can have devastating affects -- your relationship with your child can be questioned and revoked at any time.
LGBTQ2S people still find themselves in precarious situations, sometimes losing the right to raise their children or even to see them. Trans people, in particular, remain vulnerable to attacks on their parenting abilities.
"By recognizing and protecting a broader range of families, this new legislation provides Ontarians autonomy over how they structure their lives and their relationships."
The past 20 years have seen a series of incremental reforms in relation to LGBTQ2S parents. In 1995, non-biological lesbian parents gained the right to adopt their children without the birth parent losing parental rights.
In 2006, a Charter Challenge known as the Rutherford case eliminated the need for a second parent adoption and allowed lesbian couples who used anonymous sperm donation to register at birth as parents.
An important 2007 decision, known as AA/BB/CC, recognized the possibility of a child having three parents. However, despite these significant advances, Ontario law still did not adequately provide for families that include a known sperm donor, families created through egg donation and/or surrogacy, trans men who give birth, or multiple parent families.
To address these omissions, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo introduced Cy & Ruby's Act in 2015. However, it failed to become law.
In April 2016 a new Charter Challenge, Grand v Ontario, was launched, spearheaded by lawyer Joanna Radbord.
Grand v Ontario included parties from a diversity of family configurations, and pressed the provincial government to take action to end discrimination against LGBTQ2S families. The provincial government pledged to act, and today it did.
This new Act takes a brave step toward recognizing sex and gender self-determination in parenting and family building. Until recently, LGBTQ2S families were understood only in relation to the "normal" family, a family presumed to have two parents of the opposite sex with genetically-related children. Yet, according to the latest census, most Canadian families, LGBTQ2S or not, do not fit this model.
By recognizing and protecting a broader range of families, this new legislation provides Ontarians autonomy over how they structure their lives and their relationships. The All Families Are Equal Act is a necessary part of the restitution LGBTQ2S communities deserve, as the fear of losing one's child continues to haunt our hopes and dreams.
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