LGBTQ community cautiously optimistic about changes to Ontario birth registration laws

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[Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne delivers remarks at the annual Pride flag-raising ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima]

Change is coming for Ontario LGBTQ families caught in a legal limbo over parental rights, but it’s not yet clear exactly what that change could look like or when it will arrive.

“It’s a very optimistic commitment to change something that really has been clear has to change for over 10 years,” says Steven Little of The 519, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ community in Toronto. “Anything that can be done to make a change in the law so that LGBT, queer, trans parents and families are recognized in all aspects of Ontario law is hugely important.”

While attending the Tuesday opening of the Egale Canada Toronto shelter for LGBTQ youth, Premier Kathleen Wynne said her government would soon change Ontario laws, making it easier for many LGBTQ families to have parental rights to their children without expensive and drawn-out legal proceedings.

The Ontario update would allow the province to join four other provinces— British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec — that have updated their birth registration laws.

As they currently stand, Ontario laws state that only the birth mother and her live-in male partner or a biological male father are immediately recognized as parents. That means that parents who fall outside that classification — for example, women in a same-sex partnership who did not carry the baby or trans men — must go through the long and expensive legal process of adopting their own children.

And parents will still face that situation in the interim, Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo tells Yahoo Canada News.

“That just delays the process for at least six months, and meanwhile children are being born that don’t have equal rights with other children,” DiNovo says.

The premier said she wants the laws changed by the end of this year. The house is set to rise June 9, so a new bill won’t be tabled earlier than September.

In October, DiNovo tabled a private member’s bill to change the laws. That bill, which is modelled on the B.C. law, has now passed second reading, she says, and moving forward with it would make change happen more quickly for Ontario families.

“I don’t get the problem here, which makes all of us a little nervous,” DiNovo says.

Wynne said Tuesday that the government intends to work with DiNovo on a new bill. But DiNovo says that she doesn’t yet have any clear indication from the government why a new bill is necessary. She also doesn’t know what specific objections there are to her bill as it exists, if any, but says she is open to discussing amendments to help the bill move forward if necessary.

Ongoing Charter challenge

The premier’s statement also comes a month after a group of LGBTQ families launched a Charter challenge against the Ontario government, alleging that the current laws discriminate against lesbian couples, families with more than two parents and trans men who give birth but don’t want to be identified as “mother” on the birth certificate.

Making the process last longer keeps that Charter challenge going, DiNovo says, and means that the families involved will have to spend more time and money fighting for equal rights under provincial law.

“We’re saying if you’re serous about this, settle with these parents,” DiNovo says, of the Charter challenge. “Are you going to actually fight them, using taxpayers’ dollars, for another six months?”

The 519 advocacy group offers workshops for LGBTQ families that inform parents and parents-to-be about the various pathways to having children and the legal hurdles they may face along the way. But it would be better for families to simply be on the same legal ground as other families in the province, Little says.

“It just seems completely unacceptable in 2016 that any LGBTQ family is facing this kind of anxiety or stress, or being made to feel othered, or being made to feel that in the eyes of the law or society that they are not an authentic family,” Little says.

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