Same-Sex Marriage in Canada: The Impact of Legal Marriage on the First Cohort of Gay and Lesbian Canadians to Wed

By MacIntosh, Heather; Reissing, Elke D. et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Same-Sex Marriage in Canada: The Impact of Legal Marriage on the First Cohort of Gay and Lesbian Canadians to Wed


MacIntosh, Heather, Reissing, Elke D., Andruff, Heather, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


Abstract: A ruling of the Court of Appeal for Ontario on June 10, 2003, declared the federal definition of marriage unconstitutional and thus opened the door for gay and lesbian couples to legally marry in Ontario. Other provinces followed suit until the federal Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005, made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Research on the relationships of gay and lesbian couples that had previously been limited to cohabiting, unmarried couples could now examine the impact of legalized marriage on same-sex couples. The present study addressed this topic in a quantitative assessment of relationship satisfaction and attachment in 26 married lesbian or gay couples and also in a qualitative thematic analysis of interviews with 15 of these couples to determine the impact of legalized marriage on their relationships and to explore their views about the support they received from society and their communities. All couples interviewed indicated that being able to marry had affected them in various ways relationally, political and socially. The quantitative analysis showed that the 26 couples had significantly higher levels of relationship satisfaction and significantly less attachment-related anxiety and avoidance compared to normative data for married heterosexual couples. Despite some challenges and struggles, the participants indicated that marriage had an overwhelmingly positive effect on their lives.

Introduction

In the last three decades, most Western countries have seen important steps in the advancement of equal rights and protection for all citizens. With respect to gay and lesbian individuals, the Trudeau government's removal of homosexuality from Canada's criminal code in 1969 was an early and significant change. However, it was not until 1996 that it became illegal to discriminate against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation. Following a court decision in 1999, both the federal and provincial governments introduced bills amending laws related to family law, adoption, pension benefits, and income tax to give couples in same-sex relationships the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples in common-law relationships. Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (Egale) argued that this change was still not sufficient and that legal recognition of same-sex relationships was necessary to achieve equality.

On June 10, 2003, a ruling of the Court of Appeal for Ontario deemed the definition of marriage (a union of a man and a woman) unconstitutional and redefined marriage to include the "voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others." City halls across Ontario were quickly flooded with same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses reflecting a fear that the ruling would be appealed and the opportunity to be legally married lost. British Columbia followed suit on July 8, 2003, and Quebec on March 19, 2004. The federal government's passage of the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005, extended the right to many to same-sex partners across Canada. This legislation created the first cohort of same-sex couples in North America to become legally married. It also provided a unique opportunity to examine the effects of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada.

The present quantitative and qualitative study explored these effects in a sample of 26 lesbian and gay married couples. Themes of interest in the study are reflected in the background literature reviewed below.

The impact of marriage on same-sex couples

Practical benefits

The practical benefits of legal marriage for same-sex couples include those related to family law, pension and health benefits, income tax, inheritance and power of attorney, and immigration law. These rights are afforded immediately to married couples without the waiting period required of common-law couples. Same-sex married couples are bound by the same responsibilities as heterosexual married couples including decision-making in medical or legal emergencies, spousal support, child support, and division of property upon dissolution of marriage.

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Same-Sex Marriage in Canada: The Impact of Legal Marriage on the First Cohort of Gay and Lesbian Canadians to Wed
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