The leader of the Ontario Liberal Party is promising to extend full and equal rights to homosexual partners in every area of law except marriage.

Dalton McGuinty said if he is elected premier, his government would pass legislation to extend full benefits, pension, spousal leave and adoption rights to same-sex couples. He stopped short of endorsing homosexual marriage, however, because it falls under the federal government’s jurisdiction.

Duncan Fulton, press secretary for McGuinty, told The Interim in an interview that the provincial leader is committed to “catch up to the private sector on this issue.” He repeatedly stressed that a Liberal government would bring in “same rights, not special rights.”

Adoption rights

Fulton said the proposed legislation would amend every Ontario law that defines a couple to include homosexual partners.

He insisted that it would not apply to the private sector. He said the legislation would only give homosexual couples the right to adopt, share employment benefits (for example, medical coverage and spousal leave) and claim survivor’s benefits from pension funds.

Fulton said once the Supreme Court rules on the M. v. H. case, Ontario will have to re-define couples. “Dalton doesn’t need a court to tell him what is the right thing to do,” Fulton said. He said the same tests as apply to heterosexual couples must apply to homosexual couples. In adoption, for example, courts will be forced to “apply the same rules and consider what is in the best interests of children.”

In 1994, McGuinty voted against the NDP’s Bill 167 which would have granted full spousal and adoption rights. In the intervening years, he has decided that the Tories are “behind the times on this one.” The Toronto Sun quotes McGuinty as saying there are many parents “who are looking to the province to show some leadership on this front.”

Fulton said a Liberal government “will do whatever it takes to ensure passage of same-sex rights.” Hamilton East MPP Dominic Agostino told the Toronto Sun, “There will be no free vote.”

Fulton said if candidates for the Liberals want McGuinty to sign their papers (which he must do if they are to run as Liberals) they must commit to expanding homosexual rights.

Fulton dismissed the idea that the expansion of homosexual rights would hurt the Liberals’ chances in the next election. “Health care and education are the centerpieces of the campaign,” he said.

“This is the right thing to do. There was no political calculation. Dalton is committed to same-sex rights.”

The reaction of members of the other parties reads like a familiar script.

Flip-flop

The NDP’s Frances Lankin wondered why the Liberals should be trusted after they flip-flopped in 1994, when former Liberal leader Lyn McLeod promised to vote for gay-rights legislation and then voted against it.

Newspaper reports have most Tories as standing opposed to McGuinty’s plan. The PC government has fought a number of court cases to prevent expanding gay rights, although they have attempted to have same-sex partners living together defined as a couple for the purpose of determining welfare eligibility.