Equality for same-sex couples : a Canadian approach


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


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Master of Laws - LLM




In this thesis I start by reviewing the theoretical perspectives that have informed the debate around equality rights for gays and lesbians. Next, I will analyze the concept of equality developed by the Supreme Court of Canada under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the Andrews case, decided in 1989, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a model based on formal equality, embracing instead the far-reaching concept of substantive equality as a way to redress historical prejudice and disadvantage of individuals and groups that fall within enumerated or analogous grounds of discrimination. In the last decade, a number of courts have applied this model to equality claims brought under the Charter by same-sex couples. I will explore the details of several of these cases as well as a variety of statutes relating to same-sex couples. Finally, I will discuss recent law reform proposals that recommend that state benefits should be allocated regardless of the relationship status of the beneficiaries, thereby envisaging more radical changes to the legal system. I conclude that the Canadian approach to equality for same-sex couples has followed an interpretive method that seems to apply a definition of family that is shifting and varies on an ad hoc basis, but that the denial of spousal status under marriage laws represents a limitation of equality rights still to be overcome. I also conclude that, in fact, the concept of status may still influence the adjudication process under section 15 of the Charter as far as marriage rights are concerned. This is because the framework of analysis under section 15 calls for an assessment of the claimant's position in the larger socio-political context, and this element, if not properly circumscribed, risks being corrupted by existing prejudices and biases relating to family.


Gay couples -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Canada.; Lesbian couples -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Canada.; Homosexuality -- Law and legislation -- Canada.

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