Families in Ontario are getting a more inclusive legal definition.
The provincial government introduced the All Parents Are Equal Act on Sept. 29, a bill aimed at updating parentage law so all parents’ legal status is more clearly recognized. The proposed act would amend the Children’s Law Reform Act and the Vital Statistics Act, in the hopes the updates will address current legal uncertainty for parents and children.
Currently, if LGBTQ couples have a child using a surrogate or a sperm donor, whichever parent is not biologically related to the baby has to go through the court process of adopting the child.
“We have a more complex social reality than generations ago and it’s a good thing we’re getting into the 21st century on this,” says Nicholas Bala, a professor at Queen’s University Faculty of Law and an expert on issues in the justice system when it comes to families.
Bala says the act reflects a commitment by the Ontario government to have a “more progressive, more realistic vision of what constitutes parentage,” particularly when it comes to the use of increasingly sophisticated reproductive technology. The various ways people can bring a child into their lives necessitated a change to legislation, which was seen as outdated and discriminatory to LGBTQ families.
The existing laws will be updated to use gender-neutral terminology where possible, says a news release by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The act was created in part with the influence of a private member’s bill tabled by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo last year, and it comes after nine families launched a constitutional challenge to the existing legislation — some of which hasn’t been updated since 1978 — that was settled in June following the government’s commitment to provide all families with equal rights.
Ontario joins other provinces, such as British Columbia and Quebec, that have made updates to their parentage laws in recent years.
“All parents and their kids need to be treated equally under the law,” Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said in a statement. “The best thing for a child is to have parents who can make important decisions about their care from the minute they are born, without any legal uncertainty. There is no one way to have a family. The changes we are proposing reflect this reality.”
Bala notes this legislation recognizes the “range of possibilities” for becoming a parent, but he notes it also highlights that there’s still a lot to be done — specifically by the federal government — on regulations surrounding surrogacy.
“This is progress, but there’s a lot more to be done,” he says.
Proposed amendments to the Vital Statistics Act include rules for determining a child’s surname if there is a conflict between parents. The Children’s Law Reform Act would be updated in areas dealing with surrogacy, posthumous conception, rules of legal parentage and outline a simplified process for up to four people to be recognized as parents of a child.
The bill is currently in its second reading debate.