Canada Witnesses Surge in Same-Sex Unions

Canada's latest "family portrait" is for the first time revealing a census count of same-sex "married" couples.

And according to Statistics Canada, which released the results on Wednesday, the number of same-sex couples has surged five times the pace of opposite-sex couples between 2001 and 2006.

In total, the 2006 census revealed 45,345 same-sex couples in Canada – 16.5 percent of which were "married" couples. Others were living in a common-law union. The number of homosexual couples jumped 32.6 percent over the past five years while heterosexual couples grew only 5.9 percent. Overall, the total count of families in 2006 was 8,896,840, up 6.4 percent from 2001.

Further data showed that over half (53.7 percent) of same-sex "married" couples were men. About 9 percent of same-sex couples had children aged 24 years and under living in their home in 2006. The presence of children was more common in female unions (16.3 percent) than male ones (2.9 percent).

Census officials included same-sex couples in their 2006 count to reflect the results of Canada's legalization of same-sex "marriage." Canada in 2005 became the third country in the world to legalize homosexual "marriage" nationwide, after the Netherlands and Belgium.

Spain and South Africa have since followed in legalizing it.

"It's the first time that we've asked same-sex marriage so it's really a benchmark number," Anne Milan, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada, told The Associated Press.

Gay and lesbian activists, however, were not happy with the census questionnaire which included an "other" box for same-sex "married" couples.

The term "spouse" and "husband" and "wife" were ruled out during focus group testing as they proved too confusing or not commonly used in the gay community, reported Milan.

Statistics Canada ended up using the "other" box, encouraging people to include "same-sex married couple" as a write-in response.

Egale Canada, an advocate group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights, urged people to check husband or wife rather than the "other" box. Many members simply chose not to complete the census in protest.

Milan told The Canadian Press that it's "difficult to say" what effect Egale's dissent had on the numbers.

"Future census releases will allow us to compare the count and see what's happening," she said.

Statistics Canada and Egale are discussing how to change the counting process next time.

Michael Leshner, one of Canada's first legally "married" gay men, said that the fact the question was being asked at all shows that "people are getting on with their lives, which was fundamentally what the whole debate was about.

"It's really a debate that hopefully has run its course... We're just part of the boring middle class now, he said, according to the local newspaper.

Same-sex couples represented 0.6 percent of all couples in Canada in 2006, which is comparable to numbers reported in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Today, gay tolerance is on the rise around the world, particularly among young people. Nearly half (46 percent) of Americans in the United States say same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid with the same rights as traditional marriages, according to a recent Gallup Poll. And 50 percent of Mexicans support proposals to allow gay "marriage," according to a 2005 poll by the Mitofsky market-research firm. Same-sex civil unions were legalized in Mexico City in 2006 and with the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico becoming less vocal in their opposition, activists are hoping to legalize same-sex "marriage."