Friday, September 14, 2007

Same Sex Marriage Redefining the definition of family

The Globe and Mail recently posted a few articles in regards to sex same marriage and the effects on how we define family. Please see below.


The redefinition of family continues apace in Canada, with the latest household figures from the 2006 census showing a significant increase in the number of same-sex couples and a first-ever count of same-sex marriages.

At the same time, there are more common-law families, more childless couples, more people living alone and a greater number of single-parent households in Canada than ever before.

The census counted 45,345 same-sex couples, up 32 per cent from 2001, representing 0.6 per cent of all couples in Canada. Not surprisingly, half of these couples lived in the three largest census metropolitan areas: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Statistics Canada allowed census respondents for the first time to indicate if they were in a same-sex marriage. A total of 7,465 couples said they were.

For the first time unmarried couples out-number married partners, and couples without children are more common than couples with children

The census also found:

• There were 6,105,910 married-couple families, an increase of only 3.5 per cent from 2001, accounting for 68.8 per cent of all census families.

• In contrast, the number of common-law-couple families surged 18.9 per cent to 1,376,865, or 15.5 per cent of all census families. Only two decades ago, that proportion stood at 7.2 per cent.

• The number of lone-parent families increased 7.8 per cent to 1,414,060.

• The number of one-person households increased 11.8 per cent, more than twice as fast as the 5.3 per cent increase for the total population in private households.

• The number of households consisting of couples without children aged 24 years and under increased 11.2 per cent from 2001.

“The overall picture certainly is one of an increasing diversification of our families and households,” said Doug Norris, senior-vice president and chief demographer at Environics Analytics.

“For the first time ever, we've got more couples without children than with children, we've got over a quarter of our households with one person only,” he said.

In what could be described as the ‘incredible shrinking family,' the census found just nine per cent of families with five people or more, and more than 25 per cent of households with just one person. Five decades ago, those numbers were reversed.

Rosemary Bender, director-general of social and demographic statistics at Statscan, attributed the change in part to declining fertility rates and increased life expectancy.

“Those who are widowed, for example, are living longer, they're healthier and they're living alone. So you have an increasing number of one-person households, including young people who are delaying marriage or common law unions and are staying single longer,” she said.

Although the increase in same-sex couples is significant, it was not unexpected.

Under-reporting is common on first-time census questions: The number of same-sex couples identified by the Australian census doubled from 1996 to 2001; the United States saw an increase of 300 per cent from 1990 to 2000.

Moreover, Canada has seen broad policy changes on same-sex couple rights and entitlements since the last census.

Adoption, pension benefits, child-care tax breaks and a host of other rights were awarded to gay and lesbian couples in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in July, 2005, after several provincial courts ruled that the government's definition of marriage – the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others – was unconstitutional.

Experts say these policy changes and greater societal tolerance made it easier for same-sex couples to self identify on the 2006 census.

“Two things are happening,” said David Rayside, director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at University of Toronto.

“As public acceptance slowly increases for ... the recognition of homosexuality in general, and for same-sex couples in particular, there are more people in a broader range of communities who can actually imagine living together,” he said.

“But also, there is an increase in the proportion of people who are prepared to say that they are living together in a conjugal relationship.”

The census appears to skew low on the number of same-sex marriages. According to Canadians for Equal Marriage, 12,438 marriage licences had been issued to same-sex couples by the end of summer 2006, based on provincial data and estimates.

Some critics attribute the discrepancy to the way the census question was asked. Couples were instructed to check the “Other” category at the bottom of a list of relationships, rather than the box marked “Husband or wife.”

“The census, we believe, made an error and they were unfair to married same-sex couples,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, a gay rights advocacy group that organized a petition last year and urged couples to ignore the “Other” box.

However, Ms. Bender said the numbers are “very robust” and include any same-sex couples who checked off the “Husband” or “Wife” boxes instead of “Other.”

Ms. Bender said the original question was crafted at the same time the same-sex marriage legislation was being debated in Ottawa and that there was some confusion over terminology.

“We wanted a question that would apply to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. So we had husband and wife and spouse ... What we found at the time was not everyone in the gay community identified with the term husband and wife.”

Mr. Norris of Environics said the “other” category could have resulted in lower numbers, but that it's difficult to say because the data are so new and there's no benchmark.

Michael Leshner, one of the first Canadians to legally marry his same-sex partner, Michael Stark, in a June, 2003, civil ceremony, said it will be many years before the census accurately reflects the totality of gay and lesbian families.

“A lot of people do not feel comfortable, still, coming out on official government sites for a variety of reasons,” Mr. Leshner said. “Social change, even within the gay and lesbian movement, takes a long, long time.”

Still, Mr. Stark said the early results are encouraging for he and his husband, who spent many years fighting for the same rights as heterosexual couples and who, only four years ago, were among just a handful of married same-sex couples in the entire country.

“There's a certain satisfaction knowing people are taking advantage of that right to get married,” he said.

Meanwhile, the number of traditional nuclear families gave up even more ground to lone-parent families, which make up a record one in four Canadian families with children.

Evidence of the lone-parent phenomenon reaches back to the early 20th century, but the reasons more and more Canadian children are being raised by only one parent are drastically different than they were 75 years ago.

Regardless of the cause, poverty is a common thread.

“The problem is that you have only one breadwinner, when that breadwinner is employed at all,” said Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emeritus of sociology at York University in Toronto.

In 2005, the median household income for two-parent families in Canada was $67,600. For lone-parent families it was $30,000 — meaning half of all single-parent families were bringing in less that amount annually.

There were 1.4 million lone-parent families — 26 per cent of all families with children — last year. That's up some eight per cent from five years earlier. While the vast majority of such households (80 per cent) were headed by women, the number of lone-parent families headed by men was up 15 per cent.

More than 2.1 million children are now living in a lone-parent family.

Mr. Norris said one census finding he found particularly striking was that the number of women living with a spouse or partner peaked in their late thirties, but didn't peak for men until the late sixties. In other words, far more women in their fifties and sixties are living single than are men.

“As a result of separations and divorce, women are not forming unions again,” he said.

“When those relationships break up, women tend, for whatever reason, not to get into a second relationship. They live on their own, or perhaps as single parents, but they're not forming a couple. They are not remarrying, not going into a common law union to nearly the extent that males do, and that gap widens with age.”


Thank heavens for gay marriage. Without it, the most ancient of all our social institutions would be in even worse decline than it already is. In the mere span of a generation, marriage between men and women has fallen dramatically out of fashion - so much so that married people are the newest Canadian minority. For the first time since Statistics Canada has collected data, more than half of us (age 15 and over) are unmarried - they've either never married or they're divorced, separated, widowed or living common-law. Millions of Canadians have asked themselves: ''Who need marriage, anyway?'' and answered, ''Not me.'' --

Do you agree with this statement?

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