By Tom Korski
Originally published in The Hill Times, September 24, 2007

For all the hype and histrionics, new data show gay Canadians are just mild about marriage.  Ironic, yes?

The Commons, courts, and churches were spurred into years-long debate over the issue in the belief it was vital or at least relevant to the gay community.  Yet recent federal figures show less than five per cent of gay Canadians have wed since the country legalized same-sex marriage in 2005.

The number was not widely reported.  Instead, a media image depicted gay Canadians enthusiastically embracing traditional roles at the exact moment the rest of society spirals into family dysfunction.

“Thank heavens for gay marriage,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.  “Without it, the most ancient of all our social institutions would be in even worse decline than it already is.”

Other journalists advised readers “the nuclear family is fading away,” (Edmonton Sun) and that “same-sex couples are taking the reins,” (, or mocked “The myth of the perfect family,” (Vancouver Sun) and lamented “there is no such thing as traditional family anymore,” (Moose Jaw Times Herald).

In one comically inelegant phrase CTV National’s Lloyd Robertson told viewers, “If you’re part of a so-called traditional family where the children are raised by a mother and father who are married, you seem to be a declining breed.”

Breeders in decline: How’s that a Happy Father’s or Mother’s Day card?

Media mythology was helped along by lobbyists like EGALE, the group Equality for Gays and Lesbians that campaigned to amend marriage law.  EGALE also petitioned the federal government to alter the wording of 2006 census forms to encourage the reporting of gay unions.

A gay journalist, John McKellar, once wrote of EGALE’s campaign, “Despite the impression you get from the media, marriage barely shows up on our community’s radar screen.”  EGALE’s focus was “nonsense,” he wrote in a 2005 National Post essay.

New data prove McKellar was right.

Census surveys found only 7,465 gay married couples in Canada.  It is a fraction the number cited by gay lobbyists.  Then-EGALE organizer Laurie Arron last October 24 told CTV NewsNet “over 10,000 same-sex couples have gotten married.”  An even high number 12,438 was cited in a Nov. 20 news release.

“There are more and more all the time,” he told a reporter.  Resulting coverage was, well, dizzying. “Gay and lesbian couples are marrying at a dizzying pace,” gasped the Victoria Times-Colonist.

Media failed to note the actual incidence of same-sex marriage was miniscule.

StatsCan three years ago calculated the number of homosexual and bisexual Canadian at 316,900.  It was the first enumeration of its kind (see StatsCan Daily, June 15, 2004, “Community Health Survey” pg. 9).  The number of married couples – 7,465 or fewer than 15,000 men and women – represents only 4.7% of the community.

When census data was released, StatsCan compiled background information to explain the subject to reporters.  “It was available to anybody who asked for it,” a statistician told me.  How many asked for it?  “Not many.”

Instead, some media sought the help of gay lobbyists in depicting just the right image of same-sex relationship.  CBC-TV’s Sasa Petricic illustrated a Sept. 12 story on family demographics with a young gay couple, Kevin Smith and Neil Pengelly, strolling with a baby in a Toronto park.  One of them, Smith, said other gay people were eager to “have the family life they’ve always wanted to have.”

Petricic concluded, “All kinds of policies which were drafted in a different era for a different Canada will have to reconsidered now. … Laws on custody and divorce will have to be rewritten.”
The inference was misleading: 95.3 percent of gay Canadians do not choose “family life” as shown by the TV couple.

Interestingly, Smith, Pengelly and baby were videotaped strolling through the identical park in a similar story on CTV National that same evening.

How did rival TV networks use the same couple to present a Leave It To Beaver image of gay married life?  CBC refused to comment; but a CTV spokesman confirmed the network contacted an unnamed “prominent gay and lesbian organization” for assistance with its story.  It declined to name the organization.  The result seemed to be a staged stroll for the cameras.

Less-scripted coverage might have provoked interesting questions of public interest.

Such as, why are gay Canadians so ambivalent about marriage?  Who does EGALE really speak for?  And do Ottawa’s gay lobbyists deserve the media platform they enjoy?

The Hill Times