Husband John Norris Nesbit
Jim Egan (1921 - March 9, 2000) was a Canadian LGBT rights activist, best known for his role in the landmark Supreme Court of Canada case Egan v. Canada.
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Egan realized he was gay at a young age. He met John Norris "Jack" Nesbit, his lifelong partner, in 1948.
Beginning in 1949, Egan was a regular writer of letters to publications, criticizing inaccurate portrayals of lesbian and gay people, and to politicians, advocating for fairer treatment of lesbians and gays under the law. His letters appeared in daily and weekly newspapers, and in magazines such as Saturday Night and Time.
He later went on to contribute journalism pieces about homosexuality to publications such as True News Times and Justice Weekly.
In 1964, he was prominently featured in Sydney Katz's "The Homosexual Next Door", a Maclean's article which was the most positive portrayal of homosexuality ever to appear in a mainstream Canadian publication up to that time; even though Egan appeared in the article under a pseudonym, Nesbit — a more private person who was uncomfortable with Egan's public visibility — demanded that Egan give up his activism if he wanted to continue their relationship.
Although Egan initially refused and the couple broke up, Egan soon decided that he wanted to reunite with Nesbit and dropped his activist pursuits. Egan and Nesbit moved to Vancouver Island in 1964, starting their own business. Egan was also active in local politics, serving as a representative for Electoral Area B (Comox North) on the Comox-Strathcona Regional District board from 1981 to 1993.
Having reached retirement age, Egan began collecting Canada Pension Plan benefits in 1986, and applied for spousal benefits for Nesbit the following year. The couple would actually have been better off financially if they collected separate individual pensions, but chose the spousal benefits route as they felt their situation would make a strong test case for the legal rights of same-sex couples. After the spousal benefits were denied, they took the case to court; following losses at the Federal Court in 1991 and the Federal Court of Appeal in 1993, the case reached the Supreme Court in 1994. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on November 1 of that year.
The Supreme Court ruled on May 25, 1995. The court ruled against Egan on the issue of spousal benefits, finding that the restriction of such benefits to heterosexual couples was a justified infringement because the core purpose of such benefits was to provide financial support to women who had spent their lives raising children rather than in paid employment — however, they ruled unanimously to include sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The latter ruling was seen as a significant victory for LGBT rights in Canada despite the loss on the benefits issue itself, setting the stage for later successes in the courts; it came to be cited as a key precedent in important later court decisions such as M. v. H., Vriend v. Alberta, Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada, and Halpern v. Canada.
Egan and Nesbit were subsequently named as grand marshals of Toronto's 1995 Pride Parade. The following year, they were the subjects of David Adkin's documentary film Jim Loves Jack.
Egan published the memoir Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life as a Canadian Gay Activist in 1998. In the same year, a portrait of Egan by artist Andrew McPhail was added to the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives' National Portrait Collection in honor of his role as a significant builder of LGBT history in Canada.
Egan died on March 9, 2000 at his home in Courtenay, British Columbia.
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