This is a quote from Martin Cauchon, Minister of Justice and by 56mVlC8J



CUPE and Equality Issues:

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is Canada’s largest union with
more than half a million members. Our members work for school boards,
hospitals, municipalities, universities, public utilities, homes for the aged, day-
care centres, children’s aid societies, libraries, transit systems, emergency
services and other publicly funded employers. We also have members who work
for private companies, including airlines. CUPE was formed in 1963. We have
over 70 regional and area offices across Canada and a staff of more than 700
people. Our National Office is in Ottawa.

CUPE’s membership is diverse. The majority of our members, approximately 60
percent, are women. We represent workers of colour, Aboriginal workers,
workers with disabilities, and workers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender (LBGT). As a Union, we have a duty to represent the interests of all
of our members and that includes the concerns of LGBT people.

CUPE is firmly committed to the advancement of equality issues in our
workplaces, union, and in society at large. We have adopted as official policy an
Equality Statement (attached) that reflects our commitment to fighting all forms of
harassment and discrimination including sexism, racism, homophobia,
heterosexism and transphobia.

The workplace has the potential to be a site of oppression for LGBT workers
especially when supervisors and coworkers harbour negative attitudes of
homosexuality. As a result, LGBT workers sometimes devise strategies to avoid
the discrimination, harassment and violence that can arise from anti-LGBT
sentiments; common strategies include pretending to be heterosexual, not
speaking about one’s significant other, and excluding one’s partner from

workplace social functions. The social pressure to remain “in the closet” is a
tremendous and unnecessary stressor for LGBT workers and inhibits the ability
to reach one’s potential at work.

The negative mental and physical health consequences exhibited by those who
have experienced discrimination and harassment based on their sexual
orientation has been well documented (Otis and Skinner, 1996; Savin-Williams,
1994). Victims report a range of symptoms from the relatively innocuous such as
headaches and insomnia to the more debilitating such as ulcers, depression and
thoughts of suicide. Harassment and discrimination also take a toll on employers
in terms of decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, high staff turnover,
and an often lengthy process of conflict resolution, all of which result in increased
operating costs, including increased health care costs.

CUPE’s ongoing commitment to the advancement of equality issues is reflected
in our collective agreements. We have successfully negotiated provisions, for
example, that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Many of
our collective agreements contain comprehensive no-discrimination clauses,
provide for an inclusive definition of “spouse” and “family” to include same-sex
partners, and provide for a range of benefits to same-sex couples including
accessibility to medical, dental and pension benefits, and bereavement leave.

CUPE collective agreements comply with provincial human rights legislation in
prohibiting discrimination on the basis of the listed grounds enshrined under law,
such as prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of race, religion and
sexual orientation. However, CUPE agreements go further than what is provided
for under human rights legislation. For example, CUPE local 3903, York
University, has negotiated language that prohibits discrimination on the basis of
gender identity. Currently in Canada discrimination on the basis of gender
identity is expressly forbidden in one jurisdiction only, that being the Northwest

Territories. The Ontario Human Rights legislation prohibits discrimination on the
basis of gender identity under the prohibited ground of “sex”.

             “Gender identity is not an enumerated ground in the Code.
             However, the existing legal structure in the Code can support a
             progressive understanding of the ground of ‘sex’ to include ‘gender
             identity’ and protect individuals who are subject to discrimination or
             harassment because of gender identity” (Ontario Human Rights
             Commission, 2000: 1).

CUPE 3903 and York University’s clause prohibiting gender identity
discrimination was in force several months before the NWT prohibition came into
effect. CUPE and the wider labour movement in Canada are recognized as
leaders in advancing equality rights not only in our workplaces but also socially
and politically. The labour movement has been instrumental in the struggle for
human rights’ protections in legislation and in our collective agreements with

Much of CUPE’s political and educational work on lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender (LGBT) issues is the domain of the National Pink Triangle
Committee (NPTC). The NPTC was formed in 1991 and is comprised of activist
CUPE members from across Canada. One of the Committee’s goals is to work
toward an inclusive society wherein LGBT persons are treated as equal citizens.

Education is key to the work of the NPTC. For example, the Committee helped
develop a workshop for union members on LGBT issues. The Pride in CUPE
Workshop serves to explode the myths and stereotypes that portray LGBT
people negatively. The Workshop also attempts to demonstrate that since
homophobia and heterosexism, like all belief systems, are learned, so too can
such harmful ideologies be unlearned through education.

CUPE’s Position on Same-Sex or Equal Marriage:

In its discussion paper released November 2002, the Justice Department
outlined four options to address the question, “what should marriage look like in
Canadian law?” Those options include retaining the opposite-sex definition of
marriage; creating an “equivalent” to marriage for same-sex couples, such as
civil union or domestic partnership; legislating equal marriage rights for lesbian
and gay Canadians; or, the creation of a registration system for all conjugal
relationships in which marriage would be a strictly religious ceremony. Under this
latter option, federal jurisdiction over marriage would crease to exist and civil
marriage would be abolished.

CUPE has adopted the position that true equality for lesbian and gay Canadians
logically entails the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. We view
the current restriction on equal marriage as discriminatory for it denies a segment
of our population access to a legal, religious and social institution that is
otherwise extended to the majority of Canadian citizens. Many people regard
marriage as lending legitimacy to our most intimate of relationships as it is
imbued with social, cultural, and symbolic significance. To achieve equal
citizenship under the law it is paramount that marriage be extended to same-sex
couples. Hence, CUPE asks the Standing Committee on Justice and Human
Rights to recommend the federal government pass legislation that would redefine
the opposite-sex meaning of marriage thereby extending the choice to marry to
same-sex couples.

The prohibition against same-sex marriage conveys the message that lesbian
and gay relationships are inferior to heterosexual relationships. It also conveys
the message that discrimination against lesbian and gay Canadians is
acceptable and warranted. This is a dangerous message because discrimination
is part of a continuum of abuse that also includes harassment and violence. In
fact, discrimination is the impetus for the harassment and violence that many

LGBT people endure based on their sexual orientation, from verbal abuse and
threats to physical assault and even the occasional murder (see Courtney, 2003
for an overview of the empirical literature on anti-gay/lesbian violence).

Same-sex couples that desire marriage want to be treated with dignity and
respect – we all do. They are not looking for “special treatment” under the law.
Same-sex couples want to marry for all the same reasons that opposite-sex
couples do; namely, to publicly celebrate our love and commitment to family,
friends and the community (see MacLeans, August 12 2002: 46-47); but it’s also
about more than that. There is no qualitative difference in the love shared
between two people, whether those two people be a man and woman, two
women, or two men. We know that our relationships are valid. The extension of
marriage rights would enhance the validity of our relationships throughout
Canadian society thereby helping to bring an end to the discrimination we
endure. We dare to dream of a time when our children are not bullied and
harassed at school because their parents are of the same sex; we dare to dream
of a time when our families accept our relationships as loving and committed and
not as a “passing phase” or “alternative lifestyle.” For us, marriage is about
equality, choice and ending the discrimination we know all too well.

Maintaining Discrimination:

1. The Status Quo

Responsibility for marriage is divided between the federal government and the
provinces. The federal government has jurisdiction over the definition of marriage
which, at present, has an exclusively opposite-sex meaning. The provinces are
responsible for the administration of marriage, for example, the issuance of
marriage licenses. Same-sex couples in Canada are unable to legally marry due
to the common law definition of marriage as the lawful and voluntary union of one

man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. However, federal law neither
allows nor prohibits same-sex marriage.

Extending marriage rights to same-sex couples is one option proposed by the
Justice Department. Under this option, equality rights for same-sex couples
would be achieved, as they would be provided with the choice to marry. This is
the preferred alternative but the Justice Department has put forth other options.

One of these options would result in the status quo: marriage would remain an
opposite-sex institution. Under this option parliament could decide to put into law
an opposite-sex definition of marriage. However, this option is problematic for it
fails to address the equality concerns of LGBT Canadians. As the Law
Commission of Canada so aptly put it:

       “(T)he status quo reinforces the stigmatization felt by same-sex couples. If
       governments are to continue to maintain an institution called marriage,
       they cannot do so in a discriminatory fashion” (2001: 130).

Legislating the opposite-sex requirement for marriage would undoubtedly bring
more court challenges by equality seeking groups. As Canadians well know,
recent court decisions in Ontario and Quebec found the opposite-sex
requirement for marriage violates the equality guarantees enshrined in the
Canadian Constitution and is, therefore, discriminatory.

2. Marriage “Equivalency”

Parliament could also choose to create a new civil union or partnership registry
for same-sex (and opposite-sex) couples. However, this approach would convey
the sinister message that LGBT Canadians are second-class citizens and are
therefore unworthy of marriage:

       “The introduction of a registration scheme should not be seen as a policy
       alternative to reforming marriage. Registration schemes in lieu of allowing

       same-sex couples to access marriage are seen, by those in favour of
       same-sex marriage, as creating a second-class category of relationships”
       (Law Commission of Canada, 2001: 130).

In the Ontario equal marriage ruling, Justice Laforme referenced Egan v. Canada
in arguing that this option would entail the creation of a segregationist regime for
lesbian and gay couples:

       “One cannot avoid the conclusion that offering benefits to gay and lesbian
       partners under a different scheme from heterosexual partners is a version
       of the separate but equal doctrine. That appalling doctrine must not be
       resuscitated in Canada four decades after its much-heralded death in the
       United States” (103).

The creation of an “equivalent” to marriage for same-sex couples would perhaps
satisfy those who believe that marriage ought to be the exclusive preserve of
heterosexual couples; however, it would not satisfy equality seekers and the
ongoing legal challenges would continue.

This option would also add nothing new to the legislative landscape; this is
because lesbian and gay couples already have a majority of the rights and
responsibilities enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples. For example, the
passing of Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act 2000,
provided equality for LGBT Canadians in over 68 federal laws. Yet, lesbian and
gay Canadians are still denied access to marriage.

3. Abandoning Marriage

The final option detailed by the Justice Department discussion paper would see
the federal government getting out of the marriage business altogether. Under
this scenario all federal law pertaining to marriage would be repealed. Marriage
would be replaced by a registry system for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
The new registry would replace marriage, civil union, and domestic partner

registries in all provinces and territories. Religious institutions would retain the
authority to decide whether or not to perform same-sex marriages.

It is difficult to imagine that Parliament would seriously consider this option. By
getting out of the marriage business the federal government would be sending
the ominous message that it would be better to abandon marriage than to allow
lesbian and gay Canadians the right to marry. As equal marriage rights activist
Joe Varnell stated in an interview with MacLeans:

       “(I)t would be a disappointing option for us because they would be saying
       that rather than pollute the institution of marriage with same-sex couples,
       they’d prefer to pick up their toys and go home” (August 12, 2002: 46).

Abandoning marriage would perhaps generate new legal battles from those who
would view this option as the pursuit of a discriminatory objective on the part of
the federal government to deny lesbian and gay Canadians the right to marry.
The option to abandon marriage might also provoke a backlash against the
lesbian and gay community – a community that continues to endure
discrimination, prejudice and intolerance – from those who would blame LGBT
Canadians for causing the collapse of one of our most cherished institutions. This
is not the intent of equality seekers. Lesbian and gay Canadians demand equal
access to marriage because marriage is the social, religious and legal institution
that lends social support and acceptance for the love that two people share,
whether those two people happen to be a man and woman, two women, or two

Arguments for Maintaining Marriage Discrimination:

1. Religious Freedom

CUPE is all too well aware that there is opposition to same-sex marriage
amongst some parliamentarians, religious groups, and other groups and

individuals. There is the perception, for example, that religious institutions would
be forced to perform same-sex marriages if marriage rights were extended to
lesbian and gay Canadians. This is not the case as pointed out by both Justice
Laforme in Halpern v. Canada and by the Law Commission of Canada:

       “I find that there is no merit to the argument that the rights and interests of
       heterosexuals would be affected by granting same-sex couples the
       freedom to marry . . . I cannot conclude that freedom of religion would be
       threatened or jeopardized by legally sanctioning same-sex marriage. No
       religious body would be compelled to solemnize a same-sex marriage
       against its wishes and all religious people – of any faith – would continue
       to enjoy the freedom to hold and espouse their beliefs” (Halpern v.
       Canada, 2002: 118).

       “(C)ivil recognition of same-sex marriage does not alter the right of
       religious denominations to perform wedding ceremonies without state
       interference according to the values and traditions of their faith. While the
       state could recognize same-sex marriages for the purposes of civil
       marriage, it could not take any position on religious marriages. As is the
       case now, some religious institutions would choose to sanctify same-sex
       unions as marriages, while others would not” (Law Commission of
       Canada, 2001: 131).

Religious freedoms are protected under the Charter. Religious institutions have
the right to regulate who they marry; for example, some churches will not marry
divorcees, others refuse to perform interfaith marriages. If equal marriage were
allowed, religious institutions would have the ability to choose whether or not to
perform same-sex marriages – they would not be forced to do so. But the
separation of church and state in a secular, pluralistic society cuts both ways.
Just as the state does not attempt to influence the affairs of religious institutions it
is our belief that religious teaching and dogma should not be a basis for guiding
and formulating Canadian social policy.

2. Procreation

Our detractors seek to deny us equal marriage rights by availing of the
procreation argument. Yet, the sole purpose of marriage is not based upon
procreation as the Law Commission of Canada has pointed out:

       “People may marry even if they cannot or do not intend to have children.
       The purposes that underlie contemporary state regulation of marriage are
       to provide an orderly framework in which couples can express their
       commitment to each other and voluntarily assume a range of legal rights
       and obligations. The law also attempts to provide for an orderly and
       equitable resolution of married spouses’ affairs if their relationships break
       down” (2001: 129).

In the Ontario equal marriage case, Justice Laforme also ruled the procreation
argument is insufficient to continue marriage discrimination.

       “I do not accept that the objective of procreation is a basis that can
       support the restriction against same-sex marriage. Rather, it could
       reasonably be argued . . . that it appears to be a mere pretext used to
       rationalize discrimination against lesbians and gays” (114).

Not all married couples desire children and some, due to infertility, are unable to
produce offspring; other couples choose to adopt. Many lesbians and gay men
already have and raise their own children. Some of these children are the result
of a previous heterosexual relationship, some are adopted, and still others are
the result of new reproductive technologies.

3. The Family

Our critics also seek to deny us marriage rights by claiming – without reference
to hard facts – that homosexuality is a threat to the traditional family unit,
comprised of a father, mother and children, and therefore undermines social
stability. However, there is no merit to this argument. Where’s the proof? The

short answer is, there is none. This so-called “argument” is based, not upon
empirical evidence, but rather upon fear, prejudice, ignorance and intolerance.
Advocates of this position also fail to take into consideration that the traditional
family unit is no longer the norm in Canada. The fact is the Canadian family is in
flux and has been for the past two decades. 2001 Census data reveal the
proportion of families with no children at home are increasing as are the
proportion of common-law couples; household size is on the decline; and, more
people are living alone. It is true that the traditional family unit is on the decline in
Canada but it is ludicrous to blame this social reality on same-sex couples, who,
according to 2001 Census figures, comprise a mere 0.5% of all couples in

4. Marriage as an Exclusively Heterosexual Institution

A parallel argument – again, based upon pure conjecture – is that same-sex
marriage would undermine and devalue the institution of marriage. Yet, it is quite
possible that legalizing same-sex marriage could have the opposite effect:

       “Lesbigay families are often stigmatized as abnormal and immoral and
       parents are denied the right to marry, ironically, at a time when concerns
       are raised about the decline of marriage itself as a binding force and
       fundamental institution. One could argue . . . that allowing those lesbigays
       who intend to enter into a stable, committed, and sexually exclusive
       marriage would reinforce the value of the institution of marriage itself”
       (Ambert, 2003: 14).

There is also the common misperception that lesbian and gay households do not
provide a healthy, nurturing and stable environment for the rearing of children.
These arguments are based not upon rigorous scientific research but rather on
prejudice and misinformation. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that the
children of same-sex couples will be maladjusted later in life, just as there is no
scientific proof to show that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to
molest their own or other’s children (see Ambert, 2003: 12).


CUPE, like many other equality and social justice groups, is extremely
disappointed the federal government chose to appeal recent court decisions in
Ontario and Quebec that found the exclusion of same-sex couples from the
institution of marriage was both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Instead of
accepting the courts’ decision and extending full marriage rights to gays and
lesbians the federal government has decided to spend even more taxpayer’s
dollars at the appeal level in an attempt to continue marriage discrimination.

Recent public opinion research reveals that a majority of Canadians support
equal marriage for lesbian and gay couples. A 2001 national survey conducted
by the Environics Research Group reveals that over half (55%) either strongly or
somewhat support allowing same-sex couples access to marriage. The same
survey also found that approval of homosexuality has doubled since 1996 with
44% of Canadians approving strongly or somewhat. Approval was highest
among women, younger people, those with higher incomes and those with post-
secondary educations. Disapproval of homosexuality was highest among men,
older people and those with low education levels. The Environics survey also
found marked differences in the disapproval of homosexuality amongst Canada’s
federal political parties. Disapproval was highest amongst supporters of the
Canadian Alliance at 58% followed by the Progressive Conservatives (41%),
Liberals (34%), NDP (32%), and Bloc Quebecois (9%).

Same-sex marriage is permitted in but two countries – the Netherlands and
Belgium. Now, Canadians have been given the unique opportunity to embark on
a most revolutionary and progressive path to full equality rights for a segment of
our population that knows all too well the pain of discrimination. We see the
extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples as a natural step in the
evolution of equality rights in Canada. Equal marriage for lesbians and gay men
will one day be a reality in Canada, whether now or in the future. All it will take is

a willingness on the part of Parliament to take leadership on this issue and treat
all Canadian citizens equally.


Ambert, Anne-Marie (2003,) “Same-Sex Couples and Same-Sex Parent
Families: Relationships, Parenting, and Issues of Marriage.” The Vanier Institute
of the Family.

Courtney, Joseph C. (2003) “Gay Men at Work: A Qualitative Study of Workplace
Anti-Gay Violence in St. John’s, Newfoundland”, unpublished Master’s Thesis.

Department of Justice Canada (November 2002), “Marriage and Legal
Recognition of Same-Sex Unions: A Discussion Paper.”

Environics Research Group (May 10, 2001) “Most Canadians Favour Gay
Marriage; Approval of Homosexuality Continues to Increase”, available online at

Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) (July 12, 2002) “Ontario
Court Releases Landmark Judgment: Same-Sex Couples Have Equal Right to
Marry”, press release.

Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) (July 17, 2002) “Ontario
Same-Sex Marriage Decision”, fact sheet.

Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) “Equal Marriage Q & A”,
available online at

Greenbaum, Mona (2002), “A Question and Answer Guide About Civil Unions
and Parental Rights and Responsibilities.” Lesbian Mothers Association of

Halpern v. Canada (Attorney General), ONSC, 68400; 392001 (2002-07-12)

Law Commission of Canada (2001), “Beyond Conjugality: Recognizing and
Supporting Close Personal Adult Relationships.”

MacLeans (August 12, 2002) “It’s About Love: A Pioneering Gay Couple Defends
Same-Sex Unions”, 46-47.

Ontario Human Rights Commission (2000), “Policy on Discrimination and
Harassment Because of Gender Identity.”

Otis, Melanie D. and William F. Skinner. (1996). “The Prevalence of Victimization
and Its Effect on Mental Well-Being Among Lesbian and Gay People.” In, Journal
of Homosexuality. 30.3, 93-117.

Savin-Williams, Ritch C. (1994). “Verbal and Physical Abuse as Stressors in the
Lives of Lesbian, Gay Male, and Bisexual Youths: Associations with School
Problems, Running Away, Substance Abuse, Prostitution, and Suicide.” In,
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 62.2, 261-269.

Statistics Canada, The Daily (October 22, 2002) “2001 Census: Marital Status,
Common-Law Status, Families, Dwellings and Households.”

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