Gay and Lesbian Rights: The Law Over Time


Beginning in the late 1960s, the law, and society in general, moved towards more equality for all citizens. These changes in family and criminal law also reinforced protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

1969: Decriminalization of Sexual Relations

Changes to the Criminal Code in 1969 were a turning point for gay and lesbian rights: sexual activity between people of the same sex was decriminalized for the first time in 100 years. Before that, the Criminal Code punished these activities with five to 14 years in prison.

1976: Protections Against Discrimination

Quebec played a pioneering role with its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in 1976. Under the Charter, gays and lesbians got new legal protections and remedies, including protections in the workplace and in housing. Other Canadian provinces followed suit later on.

At the federal level, sexual orientation was officially recognized as a prohibited ground of discrimination in a 1995 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The court decision was necessary because the equality protections in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came into effect in 1985, do not refer specifically to homosexuality. 

1996: Protection Against Hate Crimes

In 1996, the Criminal Code was changed to provide harsher punishments for crimes motivated by prejudice or hate based on sexual orientation.

1990s and 2000s: Gay Marriage and Adoption

In the 1990s and 2000s, family law evolved to respond to gay and lesbian couples who wanted legal recognition for their relationships and to start families. 

In decisions based on human rights charters, the courts progressively granted same-sex spouses the same benefits and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples.

In 2002, Quebec passed a law letting gay couples enter into "civil unions." This let them benefit from protections that had been limited to married spouses. Also, adoption was opened to everyone - married, civil union and unmarried couples and single people - regardless of sexual orientation.

In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world, after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, to legalize gay marriage. Civil marriage for same-sex couples was allowed throughout the country.