Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Toronto and Ottawa YMCAs began offering family membership rates to same-gender couples, providing them some rights that heterosexual couples had taken for granted.

Summary of Event

Two YMCAs in Canada, one in Toronto and the other in Ottawa, agreed in 1992 to extend family membership rates to same-gender couples. The Ottawa YMCA changed its policy in the fall, prompted, in part, by an Ottawa man who had been refused a family membership for himself and his partner. Family memberships were $200 less than two individual memberships. Following suit, the Toronto YMCA changed its policy soon thereafter. [kw]Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians (1992) [kw]YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians, Canadian (1992) [kw]Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians, Canadian YMCA Extends (1992) [kw]Discounts to Gays and Lesbians, Canadian YMCA Extends Family (1992) [kw]Gays and Lesbians, Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to (1992) [kw]Lesbians, Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and (1992) YMCA, Canada Canada;family rights [c]Organizations and institutions;1992: Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians[2140] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;1992: Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians[2140] [c]Civil rights;1992: Canadian YMCA Extends Family Discounts to Gays and Lesbians[2140]

Both policy changes had been part of a movement by employers, organizations, and governments that had recognized the legal and social rights of same-gender relationships in Canada. The Ottawa YMCA also had responded to an Ontario Human Rights Commission Board of Inquiry ruling in 1992, which ordered the provisional government to provide survivor benefits for same-gender partners. Companies, municipalities, colleges and universities, and many other organizations across Canada and the United States have since been recognizing same-gender couples as family relationships.

In June of 2006, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights organization in the United States, reported that several thousand private employers and colleges and universities provide health insurance coverage to an employee’s domestic partner. In 1992, Lotus Corporation Corporations, and domestic partnership benefits became the first publicly traded company in the United States to offer benefits to GLBT couples. As of June 1, 2006, 51 percent of Fortune 500 Fortune 500 companies provided domestic partner benefits and 86 percent included sexual orientation in their policies against discrimination. Among cities and counties, more than two hundred offered domestic partner benefits (through June 1, 2006).

Across Canada, provinces have registered same-gender and common-law relationships. In 2001, Nova Scotia formally recognized gay and lesbian couples as domestic partners, and one year later, Quebec gave parental rights to lesbians and gays in the province. In 1999, Ontario and Quebec passed legislation providing homosexual couples many of the same benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples, amending more than one hundred provincial statutes and regulations. In late 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized marriage for same-gender couples.

Changes have also occurred at some of the most exclusive country clubs in the United States. In San Diego, for example, a lesbian couple had filed suit against the Bernardo Heights Country Club, claiming that they were denied full membership privileges because they are not married. The California Supreme Court ruled in their favor in August, 2005. In Atlanta, a similar complaint was filed by a gay couple with the city’s Human Relations Commission. Many country clubs in Massachusetts are following the lead of the state of Massachusetts and changing their policies on marriage to give same-gender couples the same privileges as heterosexuals.

Although there has been a backlash to the legalizing of same-gender marriage in the state of Massachusetts, including the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by U.S. president Bill Clinton in 1996, as well as a constitutional amendment proposed by U.S. president George W. Bush in 2004 and again in 2006 to define marriage as between a man and a woman, much of the change is being driven by shifting demographics. The once-prevalent married-couple households made up only half of U.S. households in 2004, and the once-common married couple with kids, which included about every residence one century ago, represents less than 25 percent of the nation’s households.

From tax rates, company benefits, pensions, and country-club memberships to social security and hospital visitation, these perks were designed around marital unions. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that very soon the nation’s nearly ninety million single households will be the new majority. Even though companies across Canada and the United States are implementing benefits for same-gender couples, they are also accommodating family benefits to include domestic partners, extended family members, and sometimes even grown children. The impetus for changes in country-club privileges is being driven, in part, not only by same-gender couples but also by longtime members, primarily widows and widowers who now have live-in partners.

Quietly, on January 12, 2004, the governor of the state of New Jersey signed into law a bill that provides gay and lesbian couples some benefits that married couples enjoy, including tax advantages, hospital visiting privileges, the right to claim a partner on state income tax filings, and other benefits previously denied same-gender couples. New Jersey has followed the lead of countries that include Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, and the Netherlands, in passing laws that recognize same-gender couples. On October 25, 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-gender couples are entitled to the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples. The state of Vermont legalized same-gender civil unions in 2000, and California, since January 1, 2005, has provided some legal rights to same-gender couples who are registered with the state as domestic partners.

It remains to be seen, however, what steps the U.S. government will take in recognizing same-gender relationships at the federal level, but in the meantime, local and state jurisdictions around the country are taking steps to do so.


The decision by two YMCAs in Canada to extend family memberships to same-gender couples is part of a larger trend occurring throughout the United States and Canada—the legal recognition of same-gender couples. Not only are the courts recognizing same-gender relationships, but so too are municipalities, states and provinces, companies, and organizations. Like the case with YMCAs in Canada, YMCA members in the United States are demanding and, in many cases, winning family membership rights for their same-gender partners.

Changes for legal recognition are important for same-gender couples; they also are important for children. Approximately 34 percent of lesbian couples and 22 percent of gay couples are raising children under the age of eighteen. Without legal protection, children of same-gender couples have less rights and protection than other children, and as a 2003 Human Rights Campaign report indicates, civil unions (a proposed alternative to marriage) only provide state-level protections. The report has identified 1,138 rights, benefits, and protections that are provided by the federal government for married couples that are not guaranteed for same-gender couples in civil unions. YMCA, Canada Canada;family rights

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernstein, Robert A. Families of Value: Personal Profiles of Pioneering Lesbian and Gay Parents. New York: Marlowe, 2005.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cahill, Sean, Mitra Ellen, and Sarah Tobias. Family Policy: Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Families. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chambers, Marcia. “At Country Clubs, Gay Members Want All Privileges for Partners.” The New York Times, September 21, 2004, p. D2.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Conlin, Michell, and Jessi Hempel. “UnMarried America.” Business Week, October 20, 2003, 106.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hayden, Curry, Denis Clifford, and Frederick Hertz. A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples. Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo Press, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lahey, Kathleen A. Are We “Persons” Yet? Law and Sexuality in Canada. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Policy on Discrimination of Harassment Because of Sexual Orientation. Ontario Human Rights Commission. Approved January 11, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Same-Sex Marriage: A Selective Bibliography of the Legal Literature.” Law Library, Rutgers School of Law.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Miriam. Lesbian and Gay Rights in Canada: Social Movements and Equality Seeking, 1971-1999. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

December 4, 1984: Berkeley Extends Benefits to Domestic Partners of City Employees

December 17, 1991: Minnesota Court Awards Guardianship to Lesbian Partner

September 23, 1992: Massachusetts Grants Family Rights to Gay and Lesbian State Workers

July, 2003: Singapore Lifts Ban on Hiring Lesbian and Gay Employees

Categories: History