OTTAWA – When Naomi and Kaitlyn Smiley tied the knot in April, it was as traditional as they could get.
The two brides said their vows at a United Church in suburban Burlington, Ont., endured speeches, partied with loved ones and started sharing a last name.
“We are boring, typical people,” Kaitlyn Smiley said. “If there is something that sets us apart from the majority of people, it’s only when it is pointed out.”
But there is something that sets them apart. They are part of an exploding number of same-sex couples saying “I do” in Canada – a right first recognized nationwide in 2005.
The number of same-sex married couples has tripled in the past five years, according to figures released figures by Statistics Canada on Wednesday.
Out of the 64,575 same-sex couples who were counted in the 2011 census, 32.5 per cent were married. It’s nearly twice the share reported in 2006, the first census to count such marriages.
The trend is striking when in comparison the marriage numbers for Canadians in general. The number of married couples only rose 2.9 per cent, while the share of married-couple families dropped to 67 per cent in 2011 from 70 per cent.
The number of same-sex marriages has only been measured once before, so only time will tell if the spike in nuptials is permanent or a result of recently getting the right to marry.
“We know we’ve seen an increase, but we don’t know if it will continue into the future,” said Statistics Canada sociologist Anne Milan.
Naomi Smiley admits she didn’t always think marriage would be in her future.
“I never really saw myself getting married because I didn’t see myself in something conventional,” she said. “I was born in the 1980s. At the time, you didn’t see that for yourself.”
It was different for Kaitlyn, who is six years younger than her wife.
“It had always been something I had kind of expected for myself. I had always pictured it would be a step along the way,” she said.
More same-sex couples are following up marriage with a baby carriage, according to the census.
Twelve per cent of married same-sex couples now have children, along with eight percent of common-law partners of the same-sex.
For Tania Zulkoskey and Diane Srivastava marriage was an extra layer of legitimacy.
“(We married) For the very traditional, romantic reasons: because were in love and we wanted to celebrate our family, our relationship and we wanted to be seen as legitimate by other family members,” said Zulkoskey of their 2009 nuptials.
Shortly after, their family grew to include twins – a boy and a girl – conceived on the couple’s first insemination.
Now that the kids are nearing school age, Zulkoskey said marriage has taken on new importance.
“The marriage piece adds a little validity for what our children might experience when they go to school and meet other people who are homophobic and challenge them in any way.”
While more Canadian kids are growing up in similar types of family, Zulkoskey said she knows having two moms is still relatively rare and is trying to prepare her children for that reality.
She and her wife got the twins two birth certificates – with and without parental names – so they could avoid discrimination while traveling. Zulkoskey is also trying to teach her kids how to explain their families to other kids with different types of families.
“It is about educating our children how to respond to questions like “Where is your dad?,” she said. “A big piece is arming our children with the ability to answer what can seem like tough question that can challenge their own family constructs and that can alter their family identities.”
Canada is home to a greater proportion of same sex couples, married or not, than many other countries.
Same-sex couples accounted for 0.8 per cent of all Canadian couples, compared to 0.7 per cent in Australia, 0.4 per cent in the United Kingdom and 0.6 per cent in the United States.
Marriage still remains the minority for same-sex couples. The 2011 census enumerated 21,015 same-sex married couples and 43,560 in common-law relationships.
Although she fought for others to have the right to say “I do,” lesbian lawyer Barbara Findlay wasn’t rushing for the altar.
“I would never marry,” said the Vancouver woman, who has been with her same-sex partner for 22 years.
“Our relationship was solid and committed long before we got marriage rights. It didn’t make any sense for us personally to get married,” Findlay said, adding that marriage as an institution didn’t appeal to her as a feminist.
For the first time ever Statistics Canada counted the number of stepfamilies.
Here again same-sex families were reflected in numbers.
Approximately 464,000 or 12.6 per cent of families in Canada are blended. While 12.5 per cent of opposite-sex families were stepfamilies, 49.7 per cent of same-sex couples with children are stepfamilies.
Brenna Rivier split with her partner after nine years and a daughter. Now her nine-year-old Sadie is part of a blended family after her other mom entered a relationship with a new partner and her children.
Rivier said the rise in blended families across the board has meant other children now have “two moms” as well, whether they are gay or straight.
“Sadie has no qualms about saying she has two moms and she has a step-mom and step brother and sister,” Rivier said of her daughter. “For her it is who she is and what she has.”