Toronto Star

Oct. 23, 05:50 EDT

Census recognizes gay couples

Maureen Murray
Toronto Star

NOT ENOUGH: Cathy Desabrais, with daughter Sarah, says the census doesn't mean much when she and Suzanne Christie still can't marry.
The first census to count same-sex couples draws a mixed reaction within the gay and lesbian community.

Many hailed the move as an important first step to being fully accepted by mainstream society. But some dismissed the statistics as meaningless in a culture that still denies members of their community full rights.

"I'm in a same-sex relationship. I remember filling out my (census form) and feeling good about reporting the true nature of my relationship," said Michelle Douglas, 38. "We are part of the fabric of this country and we ought to be counted," said Douglas, who has been in a same-sex relationship for four years.

In the 2001 Census, 34,200 couples 0.5 per cent of all couples in the country identified themselves as same-sex common-law partners.

There were more men identifying themselves in same-sex relationships than women. Female same-sex partners were five times more likely to be raising children than their male counterparts. Thirty-seven per cent of same-sex couples resided in Ontario; 6,685 of them live in Toronto census area.

Douglas, who lobbies for the rights of same-sex couples, said she was heartened they were identified in every region of the country, including Nunavut.

A decade ago, Douglas took on the Canadian Armed Forces over its attempt to boot her out because she is a lesbian. Her struggle overturned the ban on gays in the military.

Not all gays shared Douglas' enthusiasm about the census.

"What difference is the census going to make?" asked Cathy Desabrais, who is involved in a same-sex relationship. She views the same-sex statistics as a public relations exercise by a government which has yet to accord lesbians and gays the full rights of other citizens, including the right to marry.

"They (the government) already know that gays and lesbians are there," Desabrais said. "You don't need to know whether it is 5 per cent of the population or 50 per cent of the population. When is a group large enough that we'll get our rights?"

Gail Donnelly, who has been together with partner Barbara McDowell for four years, views being included in the census very differently.

"I think it's a great step to start," Donnelly, 36, said. "Finally we're reaching a point where we're part of the mainstream. It's an acknowledgement there are different types of couples out there." Donnelly and her partner are involved in an Ontario court case fighting to legalize same-sex marriages.

Donnelly said it is unlikely and statisticians tend to concur that the figures reported by the 2001 census are a true reflection of the numbers of same-sex couples actually living in the community.

"It might be still very scary" for some gay couples to identify themselves.

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