COVER

ROUND TWO

D'ARCY JENISH June 20 1994
COVER

ROUND TWO

D'ARCY JENISH June 20 1994

ROUND TWO

Gays vow to fight in court after Ontario’s same-sex bill fails

The phones rang constantly. News crews appeared intermittently. The walls were still plastered with posters, press clippings and other trappings of an intense political battle. And as gay activists gathered at the offices of the Campaign for Equal Families in downtown Toronto last Friday morning, there was already talk about the next round in their battle for employment benefits and adoption rights. Less than 24 hours earlier, Ontario

MPPs had voted 68 to 59 against a controversial bill that would have extended those rights to homosexual couples, sending thousands of lesbians and gays into the streets in protest. With the defeat of the NDP government’s Bill 167, activists vowed to resort to the courts. “We’ll need enough decisions so governments can’t ignore us,” said Robert Gallagher, publicity co-ordinator for the campaign. “The problem is it costs a lot of money, and takes a lot of time.”

For most Ontario residents, however, the vote ended a brief, intense and highly emotional legislative debate over gay rights. It was on May 18 that Attorney General Marion Boyd introduced the bill, which would have changed the legal definition of spouse to include homosexual couples, and it passed first reading by a mere five votes. Over the next three weeks, church and community groups flooded the legislature with petitions. Ontario’s Catholic bishops urged their followers to write letters to their MPPs opposing it. On the other side, the Campaign for Equal Families lobbied vigorously on behalf of the bill, sending 22,000 letters to MPPs and meeting personally with the 20 legislators who missed the first vote. But facing near-certain defeat, the NDP government made an eleventh-hour bid to attract the support of the Liberals and their leader, Lyn McLeod, formerly a vocal advocate of same-sex benefits. Boyd promised to remove the two most contentious items in the bill: the redefinition of spouse and the adoption provisions.

cers—wielding clubs and wearing latex gloves—forced the protesters out of the building. Later that evening, an estimated 5,000 protesters marched arm in arm from Toronto’s gay district to the legislature. Said Kyle Rae, a gay activist and Toronto city councillor, amid the din of protest: “Human rights are being toyed with by politicians whose interest is the ballot box rather than human rights.” Police clear the legislature building: 'shame, shame' D’ARCY JENISH Shortly after the defeat, Boyd told reporters that “one way or another this issue is certainly not going to go away.” But it was also apparent that the Ontario legislature will not be dealing with the issue in the foreseeable future. The NDP has no plans to introduce a new same-sex bill, and McLeod, whose party currently leads the New Democrats and Conservatives in public opinion polls, said she would not introduce such a bill if her party forms the next government. But gays and lesbians remain committed to their cause. ‘We’re not going to die and we’re not going to go away,” declared activist Laurie-Anne Mercer. Instead, they will use the legal system to pursue what the political sys-

heterosexual couples take for granted.

When MPPs assembled for the vote late on the afternoon of June 9, the public galleries were packed with about 200 lesbians and gays. When it became apparent that the bill would die on second reading—even 12 New Democrats voted against it— some activists wept and some sat in stunned silence. But the majority stood and shouted: “Shame, shame, shame.” Most MPPs quickly left the legislature. The lesbians and gays then occupied the building’s main stairway, yelling slogans and blowing whistles. At that point, dozens of Ontario Provincial Police offi-