On May 29 at Osgoode Hall, the Law Society of Upper Canada handed out awards to 10 lawyers for their tireless advocacy work. Recipient Martha A. McCarthy (pictured right) received a medal for being a leader in advocating for equal family law rights for same-sex couples. Her Charter and equality work have put Canada on the map.
“I’m an accidental activist,” says McCarthy. “I was a first year lawyer when M and H started, so no one could have ever predicted it would have had the impact that it did in the courts nine years later.”
Early in her career, she took on a client who would eventually become the M. of M. v. H. (1999), the Supreme Court of Canada case that resulted in amendments to include same-sex couples as spouses in federal and provincial legislation. In 2000, she began the landmark equal marriage case, Halpern v. Canada (2002), which resulted in the first Canadian decision recognizing same-sex marriage, which became effective in Ontario in June 2003. Ms. McCarthy also intervened on behalf of lesbian families in A. A. v. B.B., a case which achieved legal recognition for a three-parent family.
Halpern v Canada was the first court decision in the world calling, in the name of human rights, for full and equal marriage for same-sex couples. And now 10 years after that decision that made it possible for members of the LGBT community to marry, says McCarthy, “The sky hasn’t fallen and heterosexuality still remains remarkably popular. The world kept spinning after gays and lesbians could get married.”
Among her other accolades during her more than 20 years in practice, McCarthy has received the Canadian Bar Association Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference Hero Award (1999), the Ontario Bar Association Award of Excellence in Family Law (2007) and the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto Hope and Freedom Award (2010).