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MPP Cheri DiNovo introduces new bill for Ontario LGBT families

Cy and Ruby’s Act will make things easier for queer parents

(L-R) Joanna Radbord, a family and equality rights lawyer, Cheri DiNovo and Kirsti Mathers McHenry announced Cy and Ruby’s Act on Oct 1, 2015. The act would make parental recognition easier for queer parents. Credit: Andrea Houston

Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo announced a new bill that would change Ontario’s laws around parental recognition, making it more accessible for LGBT families. Unveiled at a Queen’s Park press conference on Oct 1, 2015, the new bill will address how existing laws differ greatly for gay and lesbian couples and trans individuals and families of more than two parents, in comparison to cisgender, heterosexual couples.

“Parenting is not about genetic material. It is about love and responsibility,” DiNovo said.

Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act is gender specific and only creates a presumption for a man married to or co-habitating with a woman. For gay and lesbian couples, this means a second parent adoption or declaration of parentage is needed for both individuals to be recognized as parents, which can take several months after a child is born. Additionally, birth registration forms do not take gender identity into consideration, nor do they make room for families with more than two parents.  

Cy and Ruby’s Act is named after lawyer Kirsti Mathers McHenry’s children. McHenry helped draft the bill and spoke at the press conference. “It will give moms like me the ability from day one to take care of our kids,” she said of the bill.

McHenry faced immediate barriers to parenting not once, but twice. The first came during complications in the birth of her first child, before she and her wife could obtain a declaration of parentage. “I faced not only the possibility that something could happen to my wife, but also the possibility that I might not be able to leave the hospital with our baby.”

Fortunately, her wife recovered and their baby was fine, but there was still the matter of obtaining a declaration of parentage. “I hated that process,” she said. “It made me feel lesser. Straight people don’t have to ask the courts if their wives give birth to have them recognized as parents. They just are.”

After the birth of their second child, McHenry was denied benefits because she had not obtained yet another declaration of parentage. After that experience, she and her wife were determined to do something — they reached out to their local MPP, Peter Tabuns, in late 2014 before teaming up with DiNovo. “I knew that we had to stand up and do something so that this didn’t happen to other families.”

“The Ontario government is failing in its obligation to LGBTQ parents. It is failing children,” said Joanna Radbord, a family and equality rights lawyer and panellist at the press conference.

Radbord added that the bill would see that lesbian co-mothers who use donor sperm would be able to include both mothers’ particulars on the child’s birth registration form. “If you know the donor, you can’t fill this out. It’s fraudulent,” she explains.

Currently, trans men who give birth face a birth registration form that shows them as being the mothers of their children. By contrast, the British Columbia government passed legislation in 2014 that makes all reference to parents gender neutral. “What we’re proposing to do is that the form will just say ‘parent’,” Radbord said.

The form also only allows for two parents. In Ontario, a child can have more than two parents, but making this legal is costly and requires going through the courts.

Andy Inkster, health promoter for the LGBTQ Parenting Network, attended the press conference and has similar hopes for the bill. “It’s great for our children,” he said. “Our sort of line on this is that appropriate and accurate recognition of their families is always in children’s best interest. So the fact that they know who their parents are and they have certainty around that, and that they know that nobody can disrupt that is very important for children’s well-being.”

Developments on the bill should follow shortly.

“We’re just working out the final details on it,” DiNovo said. “It will be done and it will be tabled next week.”