A lesbian couple is vowing to sue the Ontario government if they don’t act on legislation to equalize the law for gay parents.
It would be an ironic turn for the first government in Canada led by an openly gay woman. But Kirsti Mathers McHenry and Jennifer Mathers McHenry believe it may be necessary to change a system that often forces gay parents to adopt their own children.
“There’s babies being born every day and families that are living under a legal regime that’s discriminatory, that’s outdated, that doesn’t take into account same-sex marriage,” Kirsti says.
Many same-sex parents find themselves in legal limbo after their children are born. Parents have been denied benefits and have had to go through lengthy and expensive court proceedings to affirm that they are indeed parents of their own children.
The couple are the impetus behind Cy and Ruby’s Act, named after their two children. The bill, which was put forward by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, passed second reading with all-party support in December 2015.
But the bill has stalled in the legislature and has yet to be referred to committee.
Kirsti says that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s staff have been supportive of the bill, but that there doesn’t appear to be any sense of urgency around it.
“It was really disappointing when we initially met with the premier’s staff way back in 2014 I guess, and we’re told that this wasn’t a surprise,” she says. “It wasn’t that they didn’t know about it and didn’t do something, they knew about it but it wasn’t a priority, it wasn’t something they wanted to act on.”
Now that a private member’s bill is actually in the legislature, Kirsti says that the government is still not acting to rectify the issue.
That’s why her and Jennifer are prepared to force the government’s hand.
“We’re not going to leave this to die on the order paper or let it languish or continue to languish,” Kirsti says. “So if we can’t get the legislature to act and to consider the bill properly and to pass it, we’re looking at constitutional litigation.”
The couple is working with noted litigator Joanna Radbord, though they would prefer not to go to court.
DiNovo, however, still holds out hope that the bill can be passed before the scheduled end of the legislative session on June 9, 2016.
”It’s really a question of the political will,” she says.
DiNovo says that a lot of horse trading gets done near the end of a session; the bill could be passed quickly if the government gets on board.
But that’s assuming Wynne doesn’t ask the lieutenant-governor to prorogue the legislature.
“If they do that, all bets are off,” she says.
For Kirsti, it’s imperative that the government acts immediately.
“It’s clearly discriminatory, it clearly isn’t working,” she says. “It’s costing taxpayers an enormous amount of money, it’s costing families an enormous amount of money and it’s putting kids at risk, and we know that. So why aren’t we acting?”