Statistics Canada wants to count same-sex married couples in its 2006 census — not that you can tell by looking at the questions it’s asking.
The census, which takes place every five years, is a snapshot of demographic information about Canadians, asking questions about age, income and relationship status, among other things. This year it takes place on Tue, May 16.
The 2001 census was the first to include a specific question about same-sex common-law couples. But even though same-sex marriage was legalized across Canada in 2005, the 2006 census doesn’t ask directly about same-sex marriage. StatsCan admits it’s out of date.
“The process to draw up the questions and get them approved takes a long time, three years,” says André Langdon, a communications officer with StatsCan, who says questions need to be tested, run by several consultative groups and approved by the federal minister and cabinet. “The question was written at a time when the legal status of same-sex marriage was still evolving.”
While “Opposite-sex common-law partner” and “Same-sex common-law partner” each gets its own tick-box, married people have a single gender-neutral “Husband or wife” option. The form goes on to state that, “If none of the choices apply, use the ‘Other’ box” and write a description of the relationship in the box. “Same-sex married spouse” is given as an example of “Other.”
But Langdon says StatsCan would prefer if married homos didn’t follow that instruction. He says it’s better if they simply choose “Husband or wife.” Since the census also asks the sex of the “husband or wife,” officials can cross-tabulate to determine if the couple is same-sex.
“They are legally married, so they should choose that option. It’s also easier to add up checked boxes than write-in options,” says Langdon. He says that both ways of reporting a same-sex marriage will be captured.
On the 2001 census, a total of 34,200 couples identified themselves as same-sex common-law couples, accounting for 0.5 percent of all couples in the country. StatsCan considers that number to be lower than reality. Langdon suggests that’s because of the newness of the question in Canada and comfort level of reporting same-sex relationships.
He expects the reporting level to be higher this time because people will be more familiar with the question and because StatsCan has made some changes in its process that will give people more privacy. In the past, census questionnaires were reviewed locally for quality control. For the first time, forms will instead be mailed to Ottawa for review.
“I think especially in rural areas and small towns, people will have a higher comfort level knowing that their questionnaires are going to Ottawa and not a local rep. The privacy issue isn’t as big.”
The census doesn’t ask about sexual orientation.