Intersectionality and Sexual Orientation

Intersectionality as a concept was first introduced by feminist theorist Kimberle Crenshaw in the 1980s and is used to describe the ways in which groups of minorities are intersectionally connected and excluded. It focuses on the collaborative effects of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and national orientation. In other words, intersectionality addresses “the way specific acts and policies address the inequalities experienced by various social groups” (Hankivsky and Cormier, 217). The concept of intersectionality relates to critical legal studies when it comes to the outcomes of legal proceedings. For example, in the US the law had distinguished between two different kinds of discrimination: gendered discrimination and racial discrimination (Carastathis, webpage). Anna Carastathis, a blogger from Montreal, observed that black women in the US were being discriminated against under both kinds of discrimination. She used the example of a workplace and how black women were hired last and white males were always hired first (vice versa when it came to firing). In Canada, an example of intersectionality in relation to critical legal studies would be if a woman of aboriginal descent was accused of a crime that included intoxication, even if she was innocent, would she be biased against because of the history of aboriginals and alcoholism? Perhaps intersectionality comes to play in legal proceedings when it comes to an Indo-Canadian male sponsoring his wife from India. Due to the number of males that get paid to go to India and get married just for the purpose of bringing a female to Canada, would the male be prejudiced against even if his marriage was legit? Overall, in regards to legal proceedings, I would suggest that intersectionality plays a role when it comes to the outcome of cases in terms that many females probably feel as if they’ve be discriminated against because of their gender and race or other common characteristic that is discriminated against.

A case study that can be used as an example intersectionality and its application to law and society is the case of Egan v. Canada (1995). The case about two homosexual males who had been a couple for about 52 years. James Egan, the plaintiff, had applied for old age security but was denied because the definition of a spouse did not include “spouse of the same sex”. He believed that there was an infringement on the Charter in terms of equal protection and equal benefits under the law. The judge of the case decided that the definition of spouse and non-spouse had nothing to do with the sexual orientation therefore he was not discriminated against. However, Egan appealed the case and the appeal was dismissed. I believe it is clear that Egan was discriminated against in that the definition of a spouse should not have matter in terms of gender, as long as he was not lying about the fact he had a spouse. An important quote from the case is as follows:

“We will never address the problem of discrimination completely, or ferret it out in all its forms, if we continue to focus on abstract categories and generalizations rather than specific effects.  By looking at the grounds for the distinction instead of at the impact of the distinction…we risk undertaking an analysis that is distanced and desensitized from real people’s real experiences….  More often than not, disadvantage arises from the way in which society treats particular individuals, rather than from any characteristic inherent in those individuals” (Egan v. Canada, 1995).

I believe that the quote is very true. If society treated homosexuals equally, especially considering one doesn’t actually make the choice to be homosexual, then the fact that the term of spouse did not include “same sex spouse” would have been irrelevant. A spouse is a spouse no matter what the gender is. It is bizarre to know that because Egan’s spouse was a male he was denied old age security yet if his spouse was a female then there would not have been a problem.  What does it matter to the government what gender his spouse is? It shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t even be the government’s business.

A video on intersectionality:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8ln131NuzU

Works Cited

 

Egan v. Canada, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513 Retrieved from

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egan_v._Canada on November 19, 2013.

Carastathis, Anna. “Intersectionality and Feminism”. Retrieved from

http://www.kickaction.ca/en/node/1499 on November 19, 2013.

Hankivsky, O. and Cormier, R. (2011). “Intersectionality and Public Policy: Some Lessons from

Existing Models”. Utah, USA: Sage Publications. Retrieved from

http://www.jstor.org/stable/41058335 on November 19, 2013.

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One response to “Intersectionality and Sexual Orientation

  1. This is an interesting post. The quote from Egan v. Canada [1995] is definitely applicable.

    Question: Could you explain exactly how the Egan v. Canada case is illustrative of intersectionality? From the initial overview, it appears to be a clear-cut case of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Does this discrimination intersect with discriminatory practices based on gender, race, or citizenship (or other categories)?