Divorcee rights

Under orders from the judiciary, the province is now protecting the rights of the “divorced” same-sex ex.

It’s a complex case in which a Superiour Court Of Ontario judge has ruled that the province’s human rights code is unconstitutional. The Ontario Human Rights Commission was accepting complaints based on orientation, but staff wouldn’t touch cases that actually involved same-sex partnerships.

“It was completely incomprehensible to have protection on the one hand and yet to permit discrimination on the other,” says Bruce Porter of the Centre For Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), which got involved because the case is all about housing.

Toronto’s Lee Vincent launched his case after his application for an apartment at 569 Broadview Ave was rejected. He says the landlord turned him down because his former husband was still living in the same building.

But the human rights commission told him that, even if he could prove that he had been discriminated against, there was nothing it could do.

The code offers protection from discrimination on the basis of marital status, but his gay marriage wasn’t legally recognized – so he couldn’t be legally recognized as a divorcée.

Vincent spent three years fighting to change the code.

It would have been changed anyway on Mar 1 of this year, along with the other 66 provincial statutes that were affected by Bill 5, the spousal rights legislation. (Although gay marriage is still not recognized, common-law partners and exes are.)

Vincent met the men he would marry, Eldon Parsons, in July 1993. He soon moved into Parson’s one-bedroom apartment.

They were joined the following year in a commitment ceremony performed at their home by Reverend Jeremiah J Lyon of the Christos Metropolitan Community Church. That fall, they upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment in the same building.

“In all respects we publicly represented ourselves as a couple,” Vincent states in court documents. “Not only to our friends and our families, but our respective co-workers and employers.”

But in December of ’96 the couple split. When Vincent tried to rent a bachelor in the same building, he was denied.

The landlord stated that although she didn’t want to rent to Vincent, she didn’t actively discriminate against him either.

“It was to Mr Parsons that I stated that, ‘I am not comfortable renting an apartment to an ex-spouse when the other ex-spouse is residing in the same complex, as I have had problems with this type of arrangement in the past,'” wrote SB Lipman in her defence.

Lipman also claimed that by the time Vincent asked about the apartment it had already been rented out.

“We originally decided not to deal with his complaint back in August ’97,” says James Girvin at the human rights commission, adding that it’s taken a long time to turn that decision around even though it was clear at the time that the policy was flawed. “How slow the wheels of justice turn.”


But instead of changing the code the way Vincent asked, the judge decided to adopt Bill 5’s separate-yet-equal solution by adding a new category for same-sex partnership status.

The category, although distinct from opposite-sex common law status, offers exactly the same rights.

“I would not be prepared to strike the words ‘of the opposite sex’ in the definitions of ‘spouse’ and ‘marital status,'” says Judge Rivard in his recent decision.

Vincent was awarded $5,000 towards his legal fees. His case against his former landlord and SBL Investments is proceeding.

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