Our Families, Our Laws: the role three incredible lawyers played in expanding parental recognition to include 2SLGBTQ families

  • June 13, 2023
  • Kirsti Mathers McHenry (she/her)


What is a family and who gets to define it? The answer, according to a small number of committed 2SLGBTQI lawyers, is: we do.

For this Pride edition of the SOGIC newsletter, I sat down with three lawyers – Joanna Radbord, Kelly Jordan, and Shirley Levitan - who were instrumental in developing the All Families Are Equal Act to talk about how the Act has helped 2SLGBTQ families. These three lawyers are experts in 2SLGBTQ family formation and the laws governing it. They have dedicated their legal practices to understanding and evolving the definition of family in Ontario. For decades, they have helped families navigate legal mazes to secure appropriate recognition for 2SLGBTQ families. 

First came spousal recognition, then came marriage

Joanna Radbord has been leading efforts to make family law inclusive of 2SLGBTQ families for three decades. In 1994, Joanna was debating between graduate work in philosophy and a law degree. The defeat of Bill 167, which would have provided same-sex couples with many of the rights and obligations enjoyed by heterosexual couples, was a catalyst for her to choose law. Veteran reporter Christie Blatchford described the scene following the defeat of the bill:

It all came down, in the end, to dozens of the Queen's Park security guards donning rubber gloves and breaking open a duffle bag full of billy clubs. So protected (Against what? AIDS? Women holding hands? Men wearing T-shirts with pink triangles?), they linked arms and moved on the gays and lesbians who had been sitting quietly all afternoon, in the public galleries. The security officers-a mix of Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Government Protective Service-let the gays and lesbians blow off a little steam and then chased them down a flight of stairs from the second floor to the main floor of the Legislative building, out of the foyer and into the lovely evening light. [S]ome of them had been hit by billy clubs, a couple had been dragged away, some had been pushed down the stairs ...[1]

Joanna remembers the protest following the defeat of the bill: “There was a couple standing on top of a bus shelter making out, and I decided that I would do this – I was going to law school to make sure my life, my love, and my humanity were recognized at law.” As an articling student, she wasted no time. Martha McCarthy recruited her to work on M. v. H., the case that extended the meaning of “spouse” in the Ontario Family Law Act to include same-sex spouses. After that, they took on marriage, securing the right to marry – and then to divorce – for same-sex couples in the early 2000s.