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Avoiding the Vulva: Judicial Interpretations of Lesbian Sex Under the Divorce Act, 1968

  • Karen Pearlston (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

The Divorce Act, 1968, provided no-fault divorce for the first time. It also included a list of fault-based grounds for divorce. In addition to the traditional grounds, a spouse whose wife or husband had “engaged in a homosexual act” during the marriage could petition for divorce. This novel provision was aimed at giving husbands a way to divorce their lesbian wives. A close reading of the resulting jurisprudence and surrounding context shows not only that courts struggled to define the homosexual act between women, but also that the legal history of lesbian women differs from that of gay men in a number of respects. Notably, male homosexuality was regulated primarily through criminal law. In contrast, when parliamentarians specifically addressed lesbians, they turned their minds to the family and family law.

Résumé

La Loi sur le divorce de 1968 offrait, pour la première fois, le divorce sans égard à la faute, mais aussi la liste de motifs de divorce reconnus par la loi. En plus des motifs habituels, la Loi prévoyait qu’une personne dont l’épouse ou l’époux avait eu des relations homosexuelles durant le mariage avait un motif de divorce valable. Cette nouvelle disposition visait à donner aux maris la possibilité de divorcer de leur femme lesbienne. L’étude approfondie de la jurisprudence et du contexte qui en a découlé indique que non seulement les tribunaux ont eu beaucoup de mal à définir ce qu’est un acte homosexuel entre femmes, mais aussi que l’histoire juridique de l’homosexualité féminine est très différente de celle de l’homosexualité masculine. Par exemple, l’homosexualité masculine était abordée par le biais du droit criminel, mais lorsque les parlementaires traitaient d’affaires lesbiennes, ils pensaient surtout en fonction de la famille et du droit familial.

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Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
  • ISSN: 0829-3201
  • EISSN: 1911-0227
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-society-la-revue-canadienne-droit-et-societe
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