Sep. 26, 2012 - Issue #884: Strangelove
Latest StatsCan census stats reveal gay marriage is pretty popular
It's news that should surprise almost no one; but it does: Stats Can released a new batch of data from the last census that revealed more same-sex couples were married in 2011 than in 2006. I was trying to figure out why the media was so excited by this news. This is the first full census period that gay marriage has been legal. How is anyone surprised by this? Was it a slow news day? Certainly, there were lots of other statistics released, but why the focus on a statistic about same-sex marriage that seems so obvious? And then I saw this opening line from a story in the Edmonton Journal: "The sanctity of marriage as the bedrock of the Canadian family is steadily eroding as the country's social fabric evolves."
Right. I do have to give this reporter kudos for playing to both sides of the fence: the sanctity of marriage and the evolution of social fabric give conservatives and progressives alike something to feel good about, but while this story opened its report with the growth of those dastardly common-law and single-parent families, the non-fact about same-sex marriage came out right after. It was a clear reminder that underneath all the reporting lay a dormant moral panic about what kind of family counts as "normal."
To be honest, I'm surprised at how surprised I am by this reaction. I was always (and still am) ambivalent about the push for gay marriage in Canada; it seemed like a way to buy into the heteronormative dream. But when presented with evidence that many queers are playing that game and getting the state's seal of approval on their relationships, the reaction from mainstream media is still a salacious one.
I wonder if part of the problem is that the way the census imagines family shapes the outcome of the data. Sure, the inclusion of step-families and foster kids in the latest census takes a small step away from the strict nuclear family model, but the muck-up with rural data shows the limits of how the census is written: up to 4500 roommates in smaller cities may have been counted as same-sex couples because they happened to be married, but not to each other.
What would a queer family census look like? How can we trace the kinship lines across chosen families, polyamorous relationships, or egg/semen donors in a way that reflects that complicated nature of families— queer or otherwise—in contemporary Canada? This kind of census-taking, one that removes the nuclear family as the standard upon which all others are judged, would probably take away the spotlight from gay marriages, but we would need a government who was committed to a robust census in the first place. Since Stephen Harper's conservatives have a problem asking how many bedrooms people have in their home (one of the "invasive" questions used as an example to scrap the long-form census) I can't imagine they are going to get behind a more radical census.
There is some deliciously ironic news to accompany this news, though. Since 2006, straight marriage has only grown by a mere three percent. Gay marriage grew by a whopping 181 percent. In this moment, I'm happy to cherry pick my stats. Sure, gay marriage was only recently legalized, gay married couples comprise less than one percent of all married couples, and gay marriage is still hotly contested in queer communities. Ignore all that. For the next five years, we can claim that homos are saving traditional marriage. See? The census is still good for something.
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