Gay rights move forward
NWT considers changing legislation

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 26/99) - The effects of an historic Supreme Court of Canada ruling and a leap forward for gay rights are already being felt in the Northwest Territories.

In a decisive 8-1 judgement, Canada's highest court said Thursday that under Ontario's Family Law Act, gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexuals who can qualify for support payments when their common-law relationships break up.

"I believe this is one of the most important rulings affecting gay and lesbian couples," said Yellowknifer Zoe Raemer of the Out North advocacy group.

Raemer said the ruling comes as a result of a lengthy, nationwide effort and because the time was ripe.

"I think that Canadians are basically people with a strong sense of justice and equality, and the sense of injustice around these issues has led to the acceptance of bringing gays and lesbians into full equality," she said.

Raemer said that Yellowknifers in general have been supportive of her work.

"Over the years I've said many times that Yellowknife is a fairly tolerant community, which believes gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment, both morally and legally," she said.

Raemer said Out North's 40 members were pleased with the city's decision to sanction their first Gay-Pride Day parade last year and said the march will take place again this June.

Though not currently involved in her own long-term relationship, Raemer said the Supreme Court ruling will affect the way she lives.

"I think it gives me some comfort that I can define that relationship in a way that makes sense to me and in a way that is equal to that of other residents in the NWT," she said.

The Supreme Court gave Ontario just six months to amend the act, and legal experts said the message is that all governments should move to change legislation that discriminates against homosexual couples -- including in the areas of pension and employment benefits.

Raemer said the territory now has two choices -- to move ahead with changes to the NWT Act or wait for a legal challenge of its own.

Roy Erasmus said he hopes the former course is followed.

"If the territorial government waits to get challenged in the courts, that would be a very foolish thing," said the Yellowknife North MLA, "and it would be a total waste of money because the Supreme Court of Canada is the supreme court and the supreme law and what they say applies across Canada."

Deputy Minister Don Cooper said the Department of Justice has already begun to review the 120-page decision.

"We'll be advising the Honourable Minister Stephen Kakfwi about the implications of the decision based on our legislation," Cooper said. "We'll provide the minister with our advice, but I can't say what that will be...I think in a week or two weeks the situation will be a lot clearer."