A year in review 2016: The year that LGBT couples in Ontario became equal parents

The All Families Are Equal Act was well-fought, but it isn’t over for Wynne’s Liberals


It’s been a long fight for Jennifer and Kirsti Mathers McHenry.

It started when Jennifer was giving birth to Ruby, their first child. It was a difficult labour, and Kirsti worried that Jennifer might die in the process. And she was left with not only the chance that she might lose her wife, but that she may not have a legal right to her own daughter.

When they had Cy, their second child, Kirsti was denied federal parental benefits — a problem no heterosexual couple would face. That’s because in Ontario, many LGBT parents were forced to adopt their own children after they were born.

Jennifer and Kirsti had had enough, and decided to bring the fight to Queen’s Park for their rights as parents. And now, two years later, equal parenting has finally become a reality in Ontario. All it took was two bills, some protests and a lawsuit to make it happen.

But in the last few months, a strange thing happened; the issue become partisan in a way that it hadn’t been before.

When NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo’s original private member’s bill passed second reading, it had all-party support and was largely unnoticed by Ontario’s religious right. Yet when the Liberal government killed the bill (for dubious reasons), and brought in their own, very similar legislation, the anti-sex-education coalition pounced, absurdly claiming that Kathleen Wynne was implementing her own version of China’s one-child policy.

This was accelerated by the election of Sam Oosterhoff, the 19-year-old protest candidate elected on the backs of people who thought PC leader Patrick Brown was betraying his social conservative base.

Oosterhoff avoided the final vote on equal parenting legislation (ostensibly to throw a party) and was met with a litany of questions by reporters on his views on LGBT rights. Around a third of the Tory caucus evaded the vote as well.

 

By making it a government bill, the Liberals, whether intentionally or unintentionally, made the issue poisonous to a segment of the population. Cynics might argue that was the intention — Wynne’s simplest path to re-election would be to brand Brown as a regressive social conservative, an argument he’s making easy for the Liberals to make.

It seems almost certain that we haven’t heard the last about the equal parenting legislation, along with the comprehensive sex-education curriculum. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Ontario became a better place for queer and trans families this month.

And for that, we can thank Kirsti, Jennifer, Cy and Ruby.

This story is part of Xtra’s A Year in Review news picks for 2016.

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