Lawlessness as lifestyle

Icon Jane Rule refuses to apply for survivor benefits

One of North America’s most celebrated lesbian authors has denounced the fight to win gay marriage.

Jane Rule describes the pursuit of marriage and common-law rights as “the heterosexual cage of coupledom.”

The phrase doubles as the headline of a column which runs in the spring edition of BC Bookworld, a quarterly magazine about writers. This is Rule’s first public statement – and first new published writing -since the death of her longtime partner, Helen Sonthoff, more than one year ago.

The two were together for 45 years.

“I think the old lion just felt like roaring, to tell you the truth,” says the Galiano Island resident in an interview. “I’ve worked long and hard in the gay movement, and I don’t like the energy that’s being spent on this.”

Rule is the author of Desert Of The Heart (made into a Hollywood movie), The Young In One Another’s Arms and Against The Season. She was a groundbreaking writer tackling lesbian issues back in the 1960s and ’70s.

Rule wrote that recognition of common-law spouses hurts those most vulnerable. Whether they want it or not, any couple must now declare themselves if they’ve together for a year. Rule says single moms and those with disabilities will have to choose whether to live alone or surrender government benefits if they have a working partner.

“Over the years when we have been left to live lawless, a great many of us have learned to take responsibility for ourselves and each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, not bound by the marriage service or model but singularities and groupings of our own invention,” Rule wrote.

“To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationship. With all that we have learned, we should be helping our heterosexual brothers and sisters out of their state-defined prisons, not volunteering to join them there.”

Rule isn’t dealing in hypotheticals. When Sonthoff died, Rule says she refused to apply for survivor benefits.

Rule’s column also criticized activists – like Egale Canada and British Columbia MP Svend Robinson – for championing the marriage fight.

“I really think when organizations and public people like Svend get into it they’re seen as leaders and I think they’re influential,” says Rule. “If they say it’s important, I think people who are uncertain, or haven’t thought a lot about it, or haven’t lived long enough to know, pay more attention than they should.”

Egale Canada board member Dale Akerstrom says the national lobby group supports Rule’s position – in theory – that the state should not define relationships. But Akerstrom says the arguments don’t take reality into account.


“There’s a big proviso to that. The state does define relationships. That’s the situation we’re in. Our position is that if the state is going to define relationships, we want our relationships to be equally recognized.”

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