The Canadian Press
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 10:46 AM ET
Last Updated: Sep 19, 2012 11:25 AM ET
The number of same-sex marriages nearly tripled between 2006 and 2011, while the number of same-sex couples jumped 42.4 per cent during the same five-year period, Statistics Canada said Wednesday as it released a fresh salvo of census data focused on the country’s families and living arrangements.
The agency counted 21,015 married gay and lesbian couples and another 43,560 in common-law relationships — a sizable jump from the 2006 census, which counted same-sex couples for the first time and enumerated 45,345 of them — 7,465 married and 37,885 common-law.
Legalized in 2005
In many ways, the jump in same-sex marriage is hardly surprising, coming as it does during the first full five-year census period to follow the then Liberal government’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2005.
The law was in response to a series of well-publicized court rulings that declared it unconstitutional to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry each other.
Proving a point, however, was never part of Alisha and Julie’s wedding vows.
The pair, now in their late 20s, who asked that their last names not be published, got married last October in Sackville, N.B., becoming the first same-sex couple to tie the knot in the chapel at Mount Allison University.
“Getting married was never a question, you know, like: ‘Oh, we’re gay. Should we get married?” Julie said.
“It was always that I wanted to get married for having kids, and I wanted to have a family and just be married, you know what I mean? Have that kind of commitment to the person you love and your family.”
“Why wouldn’t I want that?” Alisha added. “Why wouldn’t I want to have everything that straight couples have?”
Census asks direct question
The increase in the number of same-sex couples — married and common-law — likely has as much to do with a wider societal acceptance of alternative lifestyles as it does with the legalization of marriage, said Rod Beaujot, a demographer at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
“I think the main things that are driving the increase in the trend in the numbers is that it’s become more acceptable for people to declare their relationships, including on the census,” Beaujot said.
The census questionnaire never used to ask people directly if they were married and of the same sex as their partner, Beaujot explained. “But now, the census has been able to have the direct question.”
Ironically, that question forced Statistics Canada to jettison some of the data on gay and lesbian couples in smaller communities because they couldn’t tell whether some people at the same address were in relationships or just splitting the rent.
The broader national numbers remained unaffected by the glitch, which only affected smaller communities such as in Alberta’s oilpatch, where a transient, job-seeking population has been forced to deal with a housing crunch by rooming together and sharing dwellings.
Among heterosexual couples, traditional marriage has been on the decline for decades, accompanied by a commensurate increase in the number of common-law relationships. However, this latest census shows a modest bump in the number of heterosexual couples who tied the knot.
Some see no reason to wed
The 2011 census enumerated nearly 6.3 million married heterosexual couples — up 2.9 per cent from the almost 6.1 million pairs in 2006.
The number of heterosexual couples in common-law relationships rose 13.8 per cent, to more than 1.5 million from 1.3 million five years ago.
Beaujot suggested a similar trend is likely to emerge over time with same-sex couples, once the initial uptick in marriages subsides.
“Once it’s there, of course, people have the choice,” Beaujot said. “There’s a group who have been waiting for that to happen who will get married quickly.”
Others, on the other hand, are in no rush, proving that the growing popularity and acceptance of common-law unions knows no sexual preference.
Indeed, of 64,575 same-sex couples registered in the 2011 census, the majority of them — 43,560, about 67 per cent — were common-law relationships.
Will Goldbloom and Zack Russell of Toronto have been together for more than two years, but never come up with a clear answer when they wonder whether they should get married. The pair just moved into a new apartment in Toronto and see no reason to tie the knot.
“Zack has anxiety about bureaucracy,” chuckled Goldbloom, 25. Just “because we can” is no reason to get married, he added.