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2006 Census information on same-sex common-law and married couples

The 2006 Census collected, for the first time, information on same-sex married couples. Same-sex marriages were legalized in July 2005 following recognition by the Supreme Court of Canada. This resulted in changes within both the private and public sectors, including federal and provincial legislation as well as private-sector insurance plans, which now extend rights and benefits to same-sex partners. Some provinces had already legalized same-sex marriages, beginning with Ontario and British Columbia in 2003 and Quebec in 2004.

The measurement of same-sex common-law partners was introduced in the 2001 Census in response to changing federal and provincial government programs.

This note describes the changes that were made for the 2001 and 2006 censuses regarding same-sex common-law and married couples.

The 2006 Census is the most up-to-date source of data on this population. The collection of this information in the census relies on self-identification by respondents of their same-sex common-law or married status. Many factors may influence the decision to report or not to report that they are living with a same-sex partner.

Same-sex common-law partners

In 2001, respondents were asked in the Relationship to Person 1 question as well as the common-law question to indicate if they were in an opposite-sex or same-sex common-law relationship. The same questions were used for the 2006 Census.

The 2001 Census counted 68,400 persons living in a same-sex common-law relationship. The 2006 Census counted 75,770 same-sex common-law partners, an increase of 11% over the past five years. The number of same-sex common-law couples increased from 34,200 in 2001 to 37,885 in 2006.

Data quality studies conducted by Statistics Canada found no problems with information on same-sex common-law partners in either the 2001 or 2006 Census.

Same-sex married couples

Testing prior to the 2006 Census determined that the best quality data on married couples would be obtained by encouraging respondents to report their relationship in the space provided on the Relationship to Person 1 question, by using whatever term they thought best described their relationship. This was in response to testing that showed that not all respondents, including same-sex couples, were able or willing to respond to terminology used to define same-sex and opposite-sex married living arrangements. This may be explained by the relatively recent legal recognition of same-sex marriages. As well, even the very low level of misreporting of the sex variable by all respondents nevertheless resulted in a considerable overestimation of the number of same-sex married couples.

During data collection in May 2006, it became apparent that married same-sex persons did not wish to write-in their relationship. In response, Statistics Canada indicated that persons who did not wish to write-in the relationship in the space provided on the questionnaire could mark 'Husband or wife of Person 1'. Every effort was made to count the same-sex married population whether they provided a write-in response of same-sex married or marked 'Husband or wife of Person 1'.

The 2006 Census counted 15,000 persons living as same-sex married couples. Of the 7,500 same-sex married couples, 41% provided a write-in response while 59% of same-sex married couples marked the 'Husband or wife of Person 1' category.

Though no previous census data exist on same-sex married couples, the 2006 Census data were evaluated and compared with other sources. Statistics Canada has not detected data quality problems with the 2006 same-sex married information. It should be noted that not all provincial and territorial vital statistics registries have published information on the number of same-sex marriages. When they do, the counts may contain marriages by non-Canadians and of those whose residence is other than the province of marriage.

As a proportion of all married couples, the 2006 Census information is similar to other countries which permit same-sex marriage: 0.1% of all married couples.

2011 Census: same-sex married couples and common-law partners

Consultations are under way for the content of the 2011 Census, including the questions on same-sex married couples. As with all changes to census content, potential question wording undergoes extensive qualitative and quantitative testing to ensure that respondents are able and willing to answer the question.

As with opposite-sex and same-sex common-law partners, Statistics Canada is considering the use of separate mark-in categories for opposite-sex and same-sex married partners in the Relationship to Person 1 question. Terminology to be tested includes marking 'Opposite-sex husband or wife of Person 1', 'Same-sex husband or wife of Person 1', 'Opposite-sex spouse of Person 1' and 'Same-sex-spouse of Person 1'.

Testing for the 2011 Census will occur in 2008 and 2009 to ensure that all questions asked on the census are clearly understood. Once approved by Cabinet, the final census content will be published in the Canada Gazette in 2010, one year in advance of the 2011 Census.