Bill C-23

When we speak about the values of Canadians it is not surprising to find that the majority of Canadians believe, as I do, that same sex couples should receive equal treatment. According to an Angus Reid poll taken in September 1999, 67% of Canadians agreed that same sex couples should have the same legal rights and obligations as a man and woman living together as common law partners. Regional support was broken down as follows: in my province of Ontario, 66% of Canadians were in support; in B.C. support was at 68%; and in Atlantic Canada support was at a high of 75%.

- Ms. Sarmite Bulte (Member for Parkdale - High Park, Lib.)

What is Bill C-23?

The Summary of Bill C-23 reads, as follows:

A number of federal Acts provide for benefits or obligations that depend on a person's relationship to another individual, including their husband or wife and other family members. Most of those Acts currently provide that the benefits or obligations in relation to a husband or wife also apply in relation to unmarried opposite-sex couples who have been cohabiting in a conjugal relationship for at least one year. Some of those Acts provide for benefits or obligations in relation to certain family members of a person's husband, wife or opposite-sex common-law partner.

This enactment extends benefits and obligations to all couples who have been cohabiting in a conjugal relationship for at least one year, in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Basically, Bill C-23 amends other laws so that there is a consistent way of handling "marriage" benefits: it treats all legally-married couples, official common-law couples, and other conjugal couples (regardless of the sexes of the people involved) as equivalent in terms of legal benefits.

The right-wing organization, Focus on the Family, describes this bill as "The Federal Same-Sex Omnibus Bill". While it does give new recognition to same-sex couples, it also benefits non-legally married opposite-sex couples, because it makes several benefits consistent.

Bill C-23 does not change the legal definition of marriage. A marriage is still defined to be between one "man" and one "woman" (whatever that means). Instead, the bill extends benefits to other forms of couples that were once only available to legally married couples (and in some cases to common-law couples).

Svend Robinson said:

I want to say a couple words about what this bill is not about. This bill is not about special rights for anyone. It is about fairness and equal rights. It is a recognition that gay and lesbian people pay into benefit plans and, up until very recently, have been denied the benefits that should flow. Indeed, outside the House stands a man with a sign saying “No special rights for homosexuals—Repeal Bill C-23”. Again, I emphasize, this is not about special rights.

This is also not about money. If anything, Reformers should be supporting the bill because it will help to reduce the federal deficit and debt. According to a study that was tabled in the Rosenberg case, an affidavit that was signed by a senior tax policy officer in the Department of Finance said:

—extending spousal tax treatment to same-sex couples would result in an overall cost savings to the federal government of about $10 million per year.

Those are the facts from the Department of Finance. It does not cost money to extend equality because in this particular legislation we are recognizing both rights and responsibilities.

Current State of Bill C-23


Bill C-23 has passed its third reading in the House of Commons, but must still be voted on in the Senate. If the Senate votes in favour of the bill, it will become law.

The vote on the third reading was 176 to 72. Here are some of the results:

Bloc Quebecois

All Bloc members who voted that day voted "Yea" to the bill.

Canadian Alliance

The Canadian Alliance were officially opposed to the bill. All Canadian Alliance members who voted that day voted "Nay" on the bill. There were about eight members who didn't vote that day.

Progressive Conservatives

The Federal Progressive Conservative Party decided to make the vote a "free vote". What this means is that any party member can vote any way they want; in essence, the PCs had no "official stance" on the bill. Four Progressive Conservatives voted "Nay".


17 Liberals broke party ranks and voted against the bill at the 3rd reading. It remains to be seen whether or not the party will take any action against these members (unlikely, given the fact that the Liberal government doesn't have too wide a margin for majority control of the house).


3 Independent members voted against the bill.

New Democratic Party

All New Democratic Party members who voted on the 3rd reading voted in favour of the bill.

Significant Personalities

Mr. Svend Robinson

Mr. Svend Robinson (Member for Burnaby--Douglas, NDP)

Svend Robinson is Canada's first openly gay Member of Parliament. In reference to the inclusion of an amendment to clearly state that the bill does not challenge the traditional definition of marriage, Robinson said:

What we have seen is a shameful collapse by the Minister of Justice to the pressure of her own backbenchers, the so-called family caucus in the Liberal Party, which some have called the dinosaur wing of the Liberal caucus, working in coalition, in this unholy alliance, cette coalition incroyable, between the Reform Party on the one hand and the Liberal Party on the other.
It is no surprise that many of the Liberals who have spoken out against the bill are the same Liberals who spoke out against equality in the Canadian Human Rights Act. I see the member for Scarborough Centre here. He has been very clear. He does not believe in equality. He voted against it in the human rights act and he is voting against this bill as well.
I got a press release from the member for Yorkton—Melville. He said that Bill C-23 should be renamed the death of marriage act. This is from a Reform Party member. I am sorry, it is the Canadian Alliance now. They say they have changed, but I ask you, have they really changed when we hear this? Here is what the Canadian Alliance member had to say: “In the 1950s buggery was a criminal offence. Now it is a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government”.

Mr. Eric Lowther (Member for Calgary Centre, Canadian Alliance)

Eric Lowther has been the most visible opponent to Bill C-23. Speaking out against the bill, the member said:

There are many types of gender relationships: siblings, friends, roommates, partners, et cetera. However, the only relationship the government wants to include is when two people of the same gender are involved in a private sexual activity, or what is more commonly known as homosexuality. No sex and no benefits is the government's approach to this bill. Even if everything else is the same, even if there is a long time cohabitation and dependency, if there is no sex there are no benefits.
Bill C-23 is a benefits for sex bill. It is crazy. Under Bill C-23, benefits will be extended to any person who has had, as the bill says, a conjugal relationship, regardless of sex. It could be male, it could be female, it could be two males or two females.

The Liberal's Postition

Although the federal Liberal government has introduced the bill, and have not opened it up to a free vote, they do have some pretty significant warts regarding this issue. Some of these points were, of course, trotted out by the Canadian Alliance (then the Reform Party), to smear the bill.

For example, Mr. Steve Mahoney, member for Mississauga West, who both voted and spoke in favour of the bill had previously stated (in 1994, while he was an MPP in the Ontario parliament, during Rae's government):

Some of us who are opposed to this bill find it difficult to accept the lecturing that seems to go that if you are opposed to the bill you are somehow opposed to democracy. I have just had it up to here with being called a racist or a bigot because I cannot accept the fact that the spouse is a member of the same sex. That is my right, indeed my responsibility. I have an obligation on the part of the people I represent and on the part of my family, from (the) heart, (to) speak my mind on this issue. I reject any attempt to try and muzzle people or try to intimidate us to try and paint this as some kind of human rights issue.

What he now says of Bill C-23 is:

What saves this vote for me and what makes it so fundamentally different from the one in the province of Ontario that took place under the leadership of Premier Bob Ray is the fact that the definition of marriage has not been touched.

This does not strike me as an overly warm position. Additionally, The Honourable Don Boudria, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons had allegedly once said (again, six years ago):

I object to any suggestion that would have homosexual couples treated the same way as heterosexual couples. Although I will fight against any form of discrimination whether it is on the basis of race, sex, religion or other, I do not believe homosexuals should be treated as families.
My wife Maryanne and I do not claim we are homosexual. Why should homosexuals pretend they form a family?

There are some positive stories among the Liberals, however, the most pleasing of which is this account from Mr. Roger Galloway, Member from (my birthplace) Sarnia-Lambton:

Last year in the city of Sarnia in my riding there was the first gay pride parade. I was approached about participating. I had no problem whatsoever; I am not so insecure as to be afraid of a gay pride parade and I participated in it. The shame of the whole thing was that not one other elected person in my riding was present, municipal or provincial; they could not find a councillor, a mayor or anyone who would go in the parade. There were 500 people in the city of Sarnia who participated in that parade. I was quite proud to be there.
I am not so insecure as to think that if I went to the parade that somebody would start a whisper campaign. My mother said to me that if I went to the parade, people may say things about me. The next day I happened to go to another event at the Polish Combatants Association. I called my mother and said that I was concerned that people were starting to whisper saying they thought I was Polish.

Copyright © 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated April 30th, 2000.

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