Losing the Feminist Voice? Debates on the Legal Recognition of Same Sex Partnerships in Canada

Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Claire Young]

Published In

Feminist Legal Studies

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



cohabitation; marginalisation of feminist critique; marriage; privatisation; same-sex relationships


Over the last decade, legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Canada has accelerated. By and large, same-sex cohabitants are now recognised in the same manner as opposite-sex cohabitants, and same-sex marriage was legalised in 2005. Without diminishing the struggle that lesbians and gay men have endured to secure this somewhat revolutionary legal recognition, this article troubles its narrative of progress. In particular, we investigate the terms on which recent legal struggles have advanced, as well as the ways in which resistance to the legal recognition has been expressed and dealt with. We argue that to the extent that feminist critiques of marriage, familial ideology, and the privatisation of economic responsibility are marginalised, conservative and heteronormative discourses on marriage and family are reinforced. Our case studies include two pivotal moments in the quest for legislative recognition of same-sex relationships: the Hearings of the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Bill C-23, The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, in 2000 and the hearings on Same-Sex Marriage in 2003. We find that the debates operated within a narrow paradigm that bolstered many existing hierarchies and exacerbated conditions for those who are economically disadvantaged.