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ONTARIO COURT UPHOLDS BENEFITS IN DEATH OF SAME-SEX PARTNER

An Ontario court has ruled insurance companies cannot refuse to pay survivor benefits to a live-in, same-sex partner.

The move to include such partners in all spousal benefits, which failed in the Ontario Legislature, is being won in the courts, statute by statute.

Denying equal benefits for homosexuals "simply carries forward and nurtures now-abandoned stereotypical concepts that have no place in the fabric of our community," Justice Douglas Coo of the Ontario Court, General Division, ruled last week.

The case began in 1993, when Robin Black, 30, was struck by a garbage truck and killed as she bicycled in Toronto. Kelly Kane, 36, Ms. Black's partner of six years, tried to collect survivor benefits from Ms. Black's car insurance policy. But Axa Insurance Co. refused to pay Ms. Kane the death benefit, equal to $19,000 in U.S. dollars, citing provincial government legislation defining spouse solely as a heterosexual relationship.

Ms. Kane, a social services administrator, argued she and Ms. Black had lived together for six years, shared a car and bank account, and were recognized as a couple by friends and relatives.

In backing the insurance company decision, Peter Landmann, a lawyer for Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General, told the court that striking down this legislation would open the door to expensive legal challenges to another 90 statutes with similar, heterosexual-only, clauses.

But Coo ruled the government's position was specious.

Legislation that "is deliberately based only on sexual orientation runs against the preservation of human dignity and self-worth" for homosexuals in Ontario society, he wrote. He also ordered the insurance company to pay Ms. Kane the death benefit and accrued interest.

The provincial government has not decided whether to appeal.

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