Same-sex marriage disparaged in Alberta benefits booklet, man says

Equal benefits provided to same-sex spouses but booklet differentiates between spouses and ‘benefit partners’
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 05/06/2009

A booklet outlining a new benefits package handed out to Alberta government workers last year defined a spouse as someone of the opposite sex, a former provincial employee says, even though same-sex marriage has been legal in Alberta for nearly four years.

Scott Mair, who used to work for Children's Services, says that according to a booklet he received in the spring of 2008, Mair's husband is not his spouse, he is his "benefit partner."

"This is what our government has put out for its own employees," Mair told CBC News. "Clearly discriminatory. Absolutely disgusting, and they're telling me that my marriage doesn't mean anything.

"To me it was systematic bullying and hatred that we've seen consistently through the Alberta government."

An Alberta government spokesperson said that although the definitions are different, the province respects employees who are in same-sex marriages and provides them with spousal benefits equally.

Mair told CBC News he left the government job because he couldn't shake the feeling his employer was treating him differently. He now works with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta but he may be considering filing a human rights complaint.

"We're legally married, we're like any other couple and here they were trying to fit us in this box. They wanted us to be separate. They wanted us to be different," he said.

A historical reluctance

In 2002, the Alberta government threatened to invoke the notwithstanding clause to block same-sex marriage after an Ontario court ordered the federal government to amend the Marriage Act. Alberta also passed a bill defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

Same-sex marriages were adopted in Alberta when they became legal in Canada in July 2005. The province officially gave up the fight, conceding it had run out of legal options. The notwithstanding clause could not be used since marriage fell under federal, not provincial, jurisdiction, Premier Ralph Klein said at the time.

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