The result of the latest national census, held last year, is clear: gays and lesbians are not getting married in substantial numbers.
Surprised? Remember the headlines as media picked up on the propaganda of pro-marriage forces, like Egale, and Canadians for Equal Marriage? The headlines that claimed we were flocking to city hall and churches to get the deed done as courts legalized same-sex marriage province after province. And again, similar headlines as the lobbyists claimed we were rushing to say our vows out of fear that Stephen Harper would reverse federal legislation allowing marriages nationwide. Egale claimed last October that 10,000 couples had married.
Not so. Very few among us are eager to embrace marriage rights. Come to think of it, not one of my close lesbian or gay friends is married, or at least not to someone of the same sex.
So, here are the facts. The census found 7,465 same-sex married couples across Canada in 2006. That compares to 45,345 declared same-sex couples in the nation. Put another way, six percent of self-declared gay couples are married. Another 37,885 declared as living common-law.
This makes an interesting contrast with straights. There are 7,437,430 straight couples, of which 6,098,445 were married — 81.5 percent. Another 17.9 percent of straight couples are living common-law.
Just 0.1 percent of all married couples are same-sex married couples. But it gets even more interesting, because in 2004 StatsCan calculated that there are 316,900 gay and bisexual Canadians. If that number is accurate, then only 4.7 percent of gays and lesbians are married. Nearly 50 percent of heterosexuals are married, and that includes straights of all ages.
But even that is too simple, because StatsCan numbers are clearly way out of line. We all know, or rather all except government statisticians know, that there are way more than 316,900 gays and bisexuals in Canada. It’s fair to argue that we are not 10 percent of the population, but there’s also no way that we are substantially less than one percent of Canadians. But most of us don’t trust government enough to declare ourselves as queer on our census — and rightly so, for government should not be in the business of asking people for their sexual orientation.
And if there are more than 316,900 of us in Canada, that means that far fewer than 4.7 percent of us got married. And that despite the initial feeling of liberation that came, for some, with the court decisions. And all the media attention. And then the fear that the court decisions would be reversed. And then the rush to do it after Parliament made it legal. And then the panic to do so when Harper was trying to reverse it.
All that attention, all that heady excitement and fear mixed together, and … what, only 7,465 same-sex couples tied the knot?
Didn’t we just spend a decade and by some estimates $2 million to wage this fight? Didn’t we just put all our other major issues virtually on ice because some couples, a few lawyers and a couple of out-of-touch lobby groups decided that same-sex marriage was the only thing that really mattered?
What about school bullying and curriculum change? What about the sex rights of gay youth threatened with a higher age of consent? What about lobbying Parliament to reign in the censor-happy and homophobic Canada Customs? And seniors’ homes that will respect the sexual orientation and sexual freedom of queer clients? And getting the needed funding for AIDS prevention programs aimed at queer youth and middle-aged gays? And trans rights and funding for sex reassignment surgery? And closing the legal loophole that allows a homophobic murderer to successfully claim the homosexual panic defence? Fill in the blank for your favourite issue that was neglected for a decade.
All that concentrated effort, all that media attention and free advertising for marriage. And guess what, very few of us actually want to get married.
This, of course, should not be a surprise to the thinking queer. Marriage is a heterosexual institution designed by the church, endorsed by the state, with the intention of controlling the sexuality of women, and by extension, their husbands. Put another way, it’s a trap that many of our mothers fell into. Two-thirds of women report they are not happy in marriage. Many of them look with envy on the relationships of their gay relatives, friends and co-workers.
I don’t expect the wedding rate will pick up. We have something better in our relationships, something that allows for a variety of friendships, fuck-buddies, lovers, sisters and exes. We don’t put all the pressures on one person. And when it ain’t fun no more, we change roles — the lover becomes a sister, part of our circle of support.
We don’t need the limitations of marriage. So we’re taking a pass. But what a waste of time and money, and a tragic diversion of focus, in that decade-long fight. Let’s move on to more important work.