Disabled Marriage Equality

Short haired woman with heels on crouching down and laughing with her hands out towards a smiling woman dressed in white in a manual wheelchair

The lgbtq2s+ community generally comes to mind when thinking of this human rights issue, but did you know that many disabled people around the world still don’t have marriage equality in 2020?

In Canada, if you are disabled and married or living common law, you do not qualify for provincial/territorial benefits.

Let me rephrase – disabled people *technically* qualify for benefits, but only if their spouses make next to no income. It is based on finances (not medical need) and the limits for financial income are extremely low, far below the poverty line.

Your spouse’s finances are considered your own, which puts the disabled person as a financial burden to their spouse (common law or married). In some provinces, they can technically say that someone you are only dating (not living with) qualifies as your spouse, and therefor when they calculate “your” income, the spouse’s income is included and you don’t qualify for provincial/territorial disability benefits. For example, in British Columbia, if your common law spouse and any other income you may make while disabled (like a CPP Disability pension) is over $14,400 a year, then you are deemed to be making too much money to qualify for financial and medical disability benefits.

It is discriminatory to use marriage status as a parameter in eligibility for disability benefits.

Are you disabled? You qualify.

Are you disabled and live with a spouse? You don’t qualify.

Could you imagine if any other marginalised group were affected this way for eligibility to a social service in Canada? You don’t qualify for Employment Insurance because of the colour of your skin, for example, or your sexual preference means you can’t get your Old Age Security benefit.

…See what I mean?

What about the CPP Disability Pension?

That is a federal pension based on your previous Canadian Pension Plan contributions and has nothing to do with your marital status. The problem is that CPP Disability is meant to work alongside the provincial/territorial disability benefits which include medical benefits and generally, a higher financial benefit. Between the two, it is meant to provide a safety net for disabled Canadians. It is worth it to note that a “higher financial benefit” is still below the poverty line no matter where you live in Canada, but that is a whole other issue.

What if I become disabled? Will I qualify for provincial/territorial disability benefits?

Find your province or territory in the Marriage Equality by Province Series on the sidebar of this page. I’m working hard to compile the research of each province and territory. If you don’t see your province or territory yet – it is coming!

Isn’t there legislation preventing this sort of thing?

We have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Act which should, in theory, prevent this inequality. We also have the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability which Canada ratified in 2010.  So what do the Charter, Act and Convention say?


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

(Equality Rights) 15. 1. “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

Human Rights Act

(General) 3.1 For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

(Denial of good, service, facility or accommodation) 5. It is a discriminatory practice in the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation customarily available to the general public (a) to deny, or to deny access to, any such good, service, facility or accommodation to any individual, or (b) to differentiate adversely in relation to any individual, on a prohibited ground of discrimination.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

(Article) 23. 1. States Parties shall take effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others, so as to ensure that: a) The right of all persons with disabilities who are of marriageable age to marry and to found a family on the basis of free and full consent of the intending spouses is recognized.

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