49 McGill L.J. 1143 (2003-2004)
Sexual Orientation and the Charter: The Achievement of Formal Legal Equality (1985-2005) and Its Limits

handle is hein.journals/mcgil49 and id is 1157 raw text is: Sexual Orientation and the Charter: The
Achievement of Formal Legal Equality
(1985-2005) and Its Limits
Robert Wintemute

Canada is one of the leading countries in the world in the
strength of its legal protection against sexual orientatioI
discrimination and in the progress it has made toward securing
equal rights and opportunities for is lesbian, gay, and bisexual
('B) minority. The author details the achievemrent of
formal legal equality through the courts', particularly the
Supreme Court of Canada's, Charter decisions since section 15
(the equality provision) of the Charter first became effective. He
focuses on the topics of criminal law, employment, unmarried
same sex couples, LGB parenting, and civil marriage for same-
sex couples, By canvassing the landmark cases in these areas,
he examine the Charter dialogue between the courts and
legislatures and the political results of these equality decisions.
The author hypothesizes that future Charter litigation will
concern the limits of furmal legal equality. This is so because
once a group that has historically faced pervasive direct
discrimination achieves formal legal equality (based on claims
of 'sameness), attention immediately shifts to indirect
discrimination (based on claims of difference). As in the case
of Little Sisters, where the Supreme Court was unwilling to
make exceptions to the definition of obscenity for the LGB
minority, sexuality is one area that is likely to remain a focus of
the struggle fur substantive equality.
The article concludes with the reminder that once formal
legal equality has been achieved, and proves inadequate, there
is a tendency among equality-seeking groups to dismiss it.
While the author recognizes that formal legal equality on its
own is not enough, he stresses that it has tremendous material
and symbolic value. He hopes that Canada's leadership in this
area of human rights law will inspire the many countries where
formal legal equality for LGB individuals and same-sex couples
remains a distant drean

A cause de ses fortes garanies juridiques contre Ia
discrimination fuadte sur ]'orientation sexuolle, et I cause de
ses avanc~es vers Ia reconnaissance de l'galit des droits el des
chances pour -a nsinorit lesbienne, gae et bisexuelle (LGB), le
Canada fail figure de chef de file duns Ie monde. Lauter
retrace l'histoire de I'ateinte de l'Igalil formelle par le bias
des tsibunaux, et s'attarde plus prtcis~ment sur le dacisions de
In Cou supreme suT Ia Chate des droits er libends de la
personne depuis l'entre en vigueur de son article 15. l1 se
concene gar le droit crimnel, lenploi, les couples de m~me
sexe non mari6s, l'homoparentalid et les mariages civils des
couples de n-kme sexe. Dns son examen des anrts marquants
dauns ces dumaines, it examine le dialogue entre les Iribunaux et
e lfegislateur, de mnme que [impact politique des dtcisions
pritoriales poartn str Ia notion d'6galitt.
L'auleur conjecture que Ia prochan vague de lifiges
portant sur In Charte portera sur les limites de 1'dgalit6juridique
formelle. En effelt, un geoupe qui a histuriquemeil subi une
discrimination direcle consid6rable el qui finit par obtenir
Ftigalitd forelle (sur Is base d'appeo s In asimilast&) tend
alors ii s'en prendr I Is discrimination indirecte dont il se dit
dtre ['objet (sur ]a base d'appels A, Ia Indiffdrence). L'affaire
Little Sisters, dans laquelle In Cour supreme n'a pas voulu
crier, pour Ia minori  LGB, d'exception 4 [a difinition de
l'obscenite, montre que la sexuait6 sera probablemen tin lieu
d'acivit important dns la lutte pour Ia reconnaissance de
Iigaliti substantielle.
L'article se termine par un rappel. Si, une fois antteite,
I'6gaitd forrnelle se rnvle inadiquate, les groupes suilitant pour
l'6galitd auront tendane h, Is laisser tomber. Bien que I'auteur
seconnaisse que 1'sgalit6 formells ne suffise pas en so, il en
souligne l'6norne valour matiie[le et symbolique. II espine
que l'exemple du Canada dans ce domaine des droits de Ia
personne inspirera lea numbreux pays o6 I'6galit6 formelle des
petrorues LGB et los conjoints de meme sexe n'esl qu'un rive

. B.A. (Alberta), LL.B., B.C.L. (McGill), Attorney (New York State), D.PhiL (Oxford); Professor of
Human Rights Law, School of Law, King's College, University of London, United Kingdom. Thanks
to Don Casswell (Victoria), Lo Veng Bun (Ontario Bar), and Bruce MacDougall (UBC) for their
comments on drafts. This article is a substantially revised version of Equality Principle, Sexual
Orientation Discrimination, and the Canadian Charter in Eleonora Ceccherini, ed., Sexual
Orientation in Canadian Law (Milan: Giuffr& Editore, 2004) 81,
© McGill Law Journal 2004
Revue de droit de McGill 2004
To be cited as: (2004) 49 McGill L.J. 1143
Mode de rf6rence : (2004) 49 R.D. McGill 1143

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