Toronto Star

Oct. 23, 01:00 EDT

Marriage loses lustre for couples

Nicholas Keung
Toronto Star

When Rebecca Young moved in with her boyfriend Jeremy Clark in Hamilton five years ago, she didn't realize they were about to become part of a growing phenomenon in Ontario and across Canada.

In fact, the couple, who started off as high-school sweethearts in London, Ont., moved in together only "by convenience" after Young was accepted by McMaster University and Clark, who's with the Canadian Forces, was sent to Hamilton.

The pair represents one of 298,545 common-law unions in Ontario and among one of 1.16 million in Canada, according to 2001 census data released by Statistics Canada yesterday. The numbers include same-sex couples.

"I couldn't afford to live in residence. It wasn't really a choice I made, but it was the most convenient thing that happened to our relationship," said Young, 23, who is in her last year of a women's studies program and wants to go to law school later.

"We went to a tax consultant to file our 1998 income tax and the woman said, `You two had lived in the same address for almost two years and you're a common-law couple.' That was new to us and a commitment shock for me."

According to StatsCan, the number of common-law unions in Ontario soared by almost one-third between 1996 and 2001, accounting for 14 per cent of all families last year. Twenty years earlier, common-law couples constituted a mere 6 per cent of families.

The growth outpaced gains in the number of married couples. Over that period, the number of common-law unions increased 31 per cent, compared to a 5.4 per cent increase in couples who were married.

Across Greater Toronto, common-law couples congregated in larger urban centres, with 109,030 people over the age of 15 reported living in common-law relationships in Toronto, 20,565 in Mississauga and 13,355 in Brampton.

"I think in my generation, there is a distrust of the institution of marriage," Young said. "Women my age see it as a trap and you become a support person in a relationship by marriage."

Clark, 26, who graduated from Sheridan College in Oakville and also works as a freelance illustrator, said people are simply too busy and broke to think of a wedding.

"I am an agnostic. I never go to church. It's not the 1950s when the husband was the breadwinner and the wife was supposed to stay home to take care of the family," he said. "We are too busy with our career and other stuff. People are so busy that they don't have the time and money to do it."

With legislation that now recognizes and protects the rights of common-law unions, both Young and Clark said a marriage certificate doesn't really make any difference in their relationship.

"I think marriage is great, but living in a common-law situation is just another option for people. You can be happy, you can be successful and you can still be in love with each other without being married," Young said.

"The whole idea has a lot to do with the women's liberation ideals in the '60s and '70s. We are the children of that era. ... Women have their own lives. You need that independence and autonomy."

Despite their strong support of common-law unions, Young and Clark are planning to tie the knot next summer so they can have "the big party, pretty dresses and the flowers."

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