Civil union between same-sex spouses, 20 years ago | “It took a lot of effort to get there”

Elected members of the National Assembly often pass arid laws on insurance, pensions and taxes. They regulate the opening hours of shops and even the color of margarine. But sometimes their decisions go to the heart of our lives. We saw this recently with medical help on dying.

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Twenty years ago, early June 2002, another solemn moment. The National Assembly unanimously gave the green light to the “civil union,” which granted same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.


Minister of Justice Paul Bégin, in September 2001

This is without a doubt the best moment of my parliamentary life.

Paul Bégin, former Minister of Justice

As Minister of Justice, Mr Bégin sponsored Bill 84 at the time. It was the culmination of a process of reflection that began in September 2001. The problems were great: same-sex spouses did not have the same rights in the eyes of insurance companies and the Régie des rents, and were not protected by inheritance sharing. In addition, they could not legally adopt a child. Children from previous unions had no legal relationship with their parents’ husbands.

One major obstacle: The institution of “marriage” fell under federal jurisdiction. Quebec law can go so far… but without using this term.

With the Civil Union, Quebec led the way in North America in recognizing the rights of homosexuals. Similar measures existed in the Netherlands or in the Scandinavian countries.

Same-sex marriage “touches the most sensitive fibers of a society,” said Paul Bégin at the time. It took a dose of courage, but Quebec society had “gone there”, notes the former minister.

Michel Bouchard was Deputy Minister of Bégin at the time. The civil union, then the “marriage” between same-sex spouses, “it would have happened inevitably, but it took a shock to get there”.

Ottawa will amend the law two years later, but the fact that Quebec has moved since 2002 has accelerated things, the ex-Mandarin says. For him, the institution of the civil union was just as important to society at the time as the medical assistance when dying is today.

It is of equal value to me. In both cases we touch on the issue of respect for the person. In the one case with an individual’s decision to associate with the person of his choice, in the other with regard to what he wants to do at the end of his life.

Michel Bouchard, former Deputy Minister of Justice

In November 2001, Michael Hendricks and René Leboeuf had already filed a lawsuit acknowledging that the ban on same-sex couples violated the Canadian Charter of Rights. After a long legal maze, Hendricks and Leboeuf were able to marry in April 2004, a right they had been given a month earlier, two years after the civil union in Quebec.

Gay rights groups still opposed his civil union plan, which was silent on its approval. Bégin recalls a meeting: “I put my fist on the table. I’m withdrawing my project, I’m letting go and waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in five, six, or seven years that you’re right. †

Between 2002 and 2004, 508 same-sex couples opted for civil union in Quebec. This number will decrease when marriage becomes available to them in 2004. But still in Quebec more than 200 gay couples opt for civil union every year.

The issue of adoption

During the PQ caucus last autumn, members had cautiously applauded Minister Bégin’s intentions. Three or four deputies “believe that we should not go ahead with this bill, because in their view the population is not prepared to accept such a change in our mores,” Bégin writes in his memoir, Looking for a country† Many are concerned that gays should be allowed to adopt children.

Those who remember the dashing Sovereign will smile. With the civil union, Paul Bégin becomes a pupil of the etapism. Bégin feels the thin ice and takes a step back after Prime Minister Bernard Landry: it will first be a “legislative proposal”. He will pocket the finding of a survey showing that 54% of Quebecers agree that gays should be allowed to adopt children, and 75% are in favor of same-sex marriage.

By the spring, he will be late adding provisions on adoption, an issue that has long been more sensitive among elected officials than among the public. In the parliamentary committee, the Barreau du Québec invites the minister to be careful. Minority groups, rather marginal groups, express downright homophobic views. “Homosexuality shouldn’t exist. We are against it,” says one. Another criticizes that same-sex spouses are “still subject to malicious expressions and violent gestures”, but adds: “It cannot be said that the homosexual condition is not disordered. is. »

When it comes time to study the delicate provisions on adoption, Bégin strategically proposes that three young adults, heterosexuals, from such families testify before a parliamentary committee.

In a heartfelt intervention, Annick Gariépy, a young lawyer, calls on her mother’s wife, Gaby, to contribute to her education. † [Des enfants adoptés par des couples homosexuels]”You have three of them here who are grown up, politicized citizens who come here to tell you how proud they are of their parents,” said Mr.e Gariépy, however, predicts that the population’s “insidious, systemic” reluctance will still be present “10 years from now”.

Twenty years later, Mr.e Gariépy admits in an interview that he is “astonished at the progress that has been made since then”.

The school now recognizes that children can have a different gender identity, which is not surprising with the steps taken at the time with this legislation.

me Annick Gariepy

“We felt the wind blowing”

After these testimonies of 2002, Bégin remembers the torrent of support he suddenly received for his bill. “I have drafted many bills, but I have never seen such systematic support from colleagues, ministers, deputies and the entire population,” he recalls. “We felt the wind change after our interventions”, M . also notese Gariepy.

Agnès Maltais, Minister of Employment at the time, still remembers the development of this project well. “Paul Bégin had warned me: I would need help! We still felt a lot of restraint in the MP caucus. It wasn’t against gays, but we wanted to protect marriage as an institution,” she recalls.


Agnès Maltais, in September 2020

Many of the caucus didn’t know I was gay at the time. I told the caucus, “If the project goes through, I plan to marry the husband I’ve been living with for 20 years.” There had been a strong surprise reaction in the room.

Agnès Maltais, Minister for Employment in the Landry . government

An important intervention, both in the caucus and in the parliamentary committee. Benoît Laprise, a very self-effacing and highly religious PQ deputy from Roberval, had warded off the faith-based restraint.

“Your God is a god of hate, mine is of love. People who love each other should be able to live their love to the fullest,” the MP said in a parliamentary committee. For meme Maltais, as far as Paul Bégin is concerned, it is this unexpected intervention that has finally wiped out the reticence.

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