By DARREN YOURK
Globe and Mail Update
Statistics Canada released the first-ever count of Canada's same-sex couples Tuesday, saying a total of 34,200 same-sex common-law couples were counted in Canada in 2001.
The number represents 0.5 per cent of all couples in the country. Male couples outnumbered female couples in the 2001 census, with 19,000 male same-sex couples comprising 55 per cent of the total.
"We didn't have any expectations in advance for what the numbers might be," John Fisher, executive director of Egale Canada a national organisation that advances equality and justice for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, told globeandmail.com on Tuesday.
"We still feel today's results are very significant. The numbers are higher than the results the first time the question was asked in the U.S. and New Zealand."
The first time same-sex couples were identified in population surveys, 0.3 per cent of couples in the United States and 0.4 per cent in New Zealand identified themselves as being in a same-sex relationship.
"In each of those two jurisdictions, the numbers greatly increased the next time the question was asked," Mr. Fisher said. "I think we can expect the figure to increase as people get more comfortable with this type of inquiry."
The 2001 census allowed couples to note that they were common-law and same-sex, an option not previously included on the form.
It did not ask individuals within the family to give their sexual orientation, since one family member fills out the form for the rest.
The new census tally comes just as Ottawa is to begin public consultations on the definition of marriage, following two court rulings in Quebec and Ontario that found the present law, which requires that the union be between a man and a woman, discriminates against same-sex couples.
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is expected to release a discussion paper this fall, outlining the options to consider. The government meanwhile is appealing the Ontario court decision, which came first.
Sociologists and gay-rights groups have already suggested that the count, released as part of a collection of family and household statistics, will be lower than the national reality because gay and lesbian couples, especially in rural areas, are unwilling to trust the government with their private living arrangements.
"The reality is that our community is one that has faced a lot of discrimination, often at the hand of our own government," Mr. Fisher said. "... Even today it is a government that is facing us across the courtroom."
Female same-sex couples were five times as likely to have children living with them as their male counterparts. About 15 per cent of the 15,200 female same-sex couples were living with children, compared with only 3 per cent of male same-sex couples.
"Those numbers really underscores the absurdity of the federal government argument that same-sex couples should be denied access to marriage because marriage is reserved for heterosexual child rearing," Mr. Fisher said.
"Obviously 15 per cent of lesbian couples are raising children. Why would we deny to those children the benefits of being raised within a married family unit?"
Mr. Fisher said he was most pleased that same-sex couples reported their relationships in every province and territory.
"They also reported their relationship in almost every federal riding," Mr. Fisher said. "That's a strong response to those MPs who might think that this is an issue that affects urban centres, not their rural community. Obviously it does."
With reports from The Globe and Mail's Erin Anderssen