More same-sex cou­ples marry

Cen­sus shows num­bers tripling af­ter na­tion­wide le­gal nod in 2005

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - AURA KANE

SUR­REY, B.C. — Laura and Jen O’Con­nor got mar­ried for all the ro­man­tic, fairy-tale rea­sons: af­ter seven years to­gether, they were deeply in love and wanted to start a fam­ily. But on an­other level, they thought it might just make their life to­gether a lit­tle eas­ier.

Af­ter all, be­ing gay comes with its own unique set of chal­lenges — chal­lenges they hoped might be eas­ier to nav­i­gate if they shared a last name.

“It’s one less thing, one less ob­sta­cle that you have to deal with,” says Jen, 27, dur­ing an in­ter­view in a sun-drenched back­yard at Laura’s par­ents’ house in a Van­cou­ver-area sub­urb.

“When we’re sit­ting to­gether, (peo­ple ask), ‘Are you sis­ters? Are you cousins? Are you fam­ily? Are you best friends?’ No, we’re ac­tu­ally wife and wife.”

When they check into a ho­tel, puz­zled staff of­ten ask if they’d pre­fer a room with two beds. Now that they’re mar­ried, the hope is more peo­ple will rec­og­nize the new­ly­weds — they were mar­ried late last month — as life part­ners, even if many con­tinue to as­sume they are re­lated.

“They’re not try­ing to be rude or wrong or any­thing. We’re not in­sulted,” Jen says. “But I think if there was some sort of need to get mar­ried, it’s prob­a­bly just for that sake of be­ing a col­lec­tive whole.”

Same-sex mar­riage has been le­gal in Canada for more than a decade, and is no longer the head­line­grab­bing novelty it was in 2005. If the O’Con­nors are any in­di­ca­tion, prac­ti­cal­ity has be­come just as im­por­tant as prin­ci­ple.

But what­ever the mo­tive, same­sex mar­riage is more pop­u­lar than it’s ever been, the lat­est data from the 2016 cen­sus sug­gest.

Of the 72,880 same-sex cou­ples counted in Canada last year, 24,370 of them were mar­ried — more than three times the num­ber of mar­ried same-sex cou­ples enu­mer­ated in 2006. Same-sex cou­ples in gen­eral grew in num­ber by just 61 per cent over the same pe­riod.

On­tario, Que­bec and B.C. lead the way in terms of the num­ber of same-sex cou­ples, although Que­bec re­mains an out­lier when it comes to mar­riage gen­er­ally: in that province, just 22.5 per cent of same­sex cou­ples were mar­ried, com­pared with 38.5 per cent in B.C. and 38.2 per cent in On­tario.

While same-sex mar­riage has been le­gal in Canada for more than 10 years, it’s still rel­a­tively new, which may partly ex­plain its growth, said John Paul Catun­gal, an in­struc­tor at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s In­sti­tute for Gen­der, Race, Sex­u­al­ity and So­cial Jus­tice.

It has also been a touch­stone in the fight for les­bian and gay rights over the past 15 years, giv­ing it a par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance in cer­tain seg­ments of the com­mu­nity. But that level of at­ten­tion can have a down­side, Catun­gal warned.

“Whose is­sues do not get prime time, do not get the lime­light?” he asked. “That can mean non­monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships. That can mean is­sues ... like sup­port for health care for trans peo­ple.”

That said, mar­riage brings ma­te­rial ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing le­gal pro­tec­tions, tax ad­van­tages and work­place ben­e­fits. It can also be­stow “cul­tural leg­i­bil­ity,” said Catun­gal — the de­sire of the O’Con­nors to be seen as a cou­ple be­ing a prime ex­am­ple.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence of not be­ing leg­i­ble as who you are,” he noted, “can be very jar­ring and it can feel very vi­o­lent.”

The “het­eronor­ma­tiv­ity” that leads peo­ple to as­sume Laura and Jen are friends or sis­ters is deeply in­grained in Cana­dian so­ci­ety, and mar­riage won’t nec­es­sar­ily fix it, Catun­gal said.

The cou­ple lives with Laura’s par­ents in Cloverdale, a sub­urb of Sur­rey. They de­cided to move in to save money af­ter spend­ing $15,000 on three un­suc­cess­ful rounds of in vitro fer­til­iza­tion.

In­deed, hav­ing chil­dren is an­other ma­jor fac­tor in mo­ti­vat­ing same­sex cou­ples to get mar­ried.

Twelve per cent of Canada’s same-sex cou­ples were liv­ing with kids in 2016, up from 8.6 per cent in 2001. Of those, four-fifths were fe­male cou­ples. The O’Con­nors are sav­ing for a down pay­ment — no small feat — and look­ing at be­com­ing fos­ter par­ents.

BEN NELMS, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Jen O’Con­nor, left, lis­tens to her wife, Laura, speak about some of their ex­pe­ri­ences as a mar­ried coou­ple.

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