Some of the information below is adapted from the Canadian government's website.
My apologies for any errors or omissions introduced by my synopsis.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, Minister of Justice Anne McLellan recently
(February 2000) tabled Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act.
The act's goal is to ensure that common-law relationships, whether opposite or
same-sex, are treated equally under Canadian federal law.
The changes aim to ensure that same-sex common-law couples have the same obligations
and benefits as opposite-sex common-law couples. They provide all Canadian couples
with access to social benefits programs to which they have contributed (via taxes).
The bill is a piece of omnibus legislation. It extends benefits and obligations to
same-sex common-law couples on the same basis as those currently enjoyed by opposite-sex
common-law couples. Some sixty-eight statutes are affected. Amendments will be made to
Canadian statutes such as the Income Tax Act, the Canada Pension Plan,
the Criminal Code and the Old Age Security Act.
The proposed legislation distinguishes between married and unmarried relationships.
It uses neutral terms and language to define relationships and the partners in them.
The term "spouse" refers to married couples only, and the term "common-law partner"
encompasses people in common-law relationships, both same-sex and opposite-sex.
The legal definition of marriage will not change. The Government of Canada has made
it clear that they have no intention of changing the legal definition of marriage.
The government notes that although certain European countries have limited recognition
of same-sex relationships, they maintain a clear distinction in law between marriage
and same-sex partnerships.
In a May 1999 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that Canadian governments
cannot limit benefits or obligations by discriminating against same-sex common-law relationships.
Denying equal treatment before the law to same-sex common-law partners is contrary to the
principles of equality enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
as well as the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Several provinces have already amended their legislation through similar omnibus bills.
As well, many large cities in Canada and more than 200 private sector Canadian companies
currently provide benefits to the same-sex partner of their employees, as do many
municipalities, hospitals, libraries and social service institutions across Canada.
Nonetheless there is considerable opposition. Members of Parliament from the
Canadian Alliance Party (until recently the Reform Party of Canada) have stated their
opposition. Several Christian groups with names such as "Focus on the Family" and
the "Evangelical Christian Foundation" have spoken in opposition to the bill.