Written with Martyna Ogonowska
Every person is born into a family; whether it be large or small. All families come in many shapes and sizes; races and ethnicities. Most families are nuclear consisting of a mother, a father, and their children; others include extended families such as aunts, uncles, or grandparents. There is another family type that has been growing and shaping the world we live in today: families that include couples of the same-sex. According to Statistics Canada (2012), “Canada was the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage” (par. 3) in 2005. Legally-recognized marriages for same-sex couples have provided the opportunity for couples of the same sex to form a unity and raise children. Topics discussed within this paper will cover the most recent statistics in Canada, some of the issues and challenges same-sex families face from day to day, the organizations that will provide same-sex couples with support and lend a helping hand, and some of the key strategies that will lead to a successful family life.
As societies become more open to unconventional and non-traditional practices, same-sex couples also became more open about their lifestyles, with marriage being one of the main institutions in which they take part. In Canada, the number of same-sex married couples increased by 42.4 per cent from 2006 to 2011 (Statistics Canada, 2015) while the “number of same-sex common-law couples rose 15.0%” (Statistics Canada, 2015). However, “same-sex married spouses and common-law partners were relatively young, with one-quarter (25.3%) aged 15 to 34” (Statistics Canada, 2012, par. 7) and only 6.2% aged 65 and over (Statistics Canada, 2012, par. 7). These were in comparison to 17.5 per cent of young adults aged 15 to 34 and 17.8 per cent of individuals aged 65 and over in opposite-sex couples (Statistics Canada, 2012, par. 7). More than half of these same-sex couples (54.5%) were male partners, while only 45.5 per cent of them were female (Statistics Canada, 2015). Furthermore, the same-sex couples counted in the 2011 statistics comprised of 0.8 per cent of all couples in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2015), “a greater proportion of same sex couples . . . than many other countries” (Lindell, 2012, par. 24). This was in comparison to Australia with 0.7 per cent of same-sex couples, United Kingdom with 0.4 per cent, and United States with 0.6 per cent (Lindell, 2012, par. 25).
Additionally, “[of] the 8.8 million children aged 24 and under who lived with two parents in 2011, the majority (99.9%) lived with opposite-sex parents while the remaining 9,600 children lived with same-sex parents” (Minister of Industry, 2014, par. 7). While there was a greater proportion of male same-sex couples in 2011, only 19.8 per cent of the 9,600 children lived with male same-sex parents (Statistics Canada, 2015) compared to the 80.2 per cent of children aged 24 and under who lived with female same-sex parents (Statistics Canada, 2015). Among these same-sex couples with children, 49.7 per cent were stepfamilies (Lindell, 2012, par. 32). According to a mom who was in a same-sex partnership, as interviewed by Lindell (2012), “the rise in blended families across the board has meant that children now have ‘two moms’ as well, whether they are gay or straight” (par. 34). Perhaps this contributed to a better image of same-sex couples and families in society, which, in turn, led these families in being more open about their lifestyles.
Issues and Challenges
According to Luxton (2011), “changing the way we think about families – in our own lives, in popular culture, in public policy, in law and in beliefs and practices – is challenging” (p. 23). Thus, in spite of the growing support for same-sex families, they still face many challenges in our society. The stigma attached to being homosexual leads to issues with the recognition of a couple’s union, with economic inequalities, with the issue of procreation, and with the impact of same-sex parenting on children.
Hopkins, Sorensen, and Taylor (2013) define heteronormativity as “the set of ideas, norms, and practices that sustain heterosexuality and gender differentiation and hierarchy, including romantic love, monogamy, and reproductive sexuality” (p. 98). From this definition, same-sex couples are seen as unnatural and non-traditional such that “bisexuality, fluidity of sexual orientation over time, and nonmonogamous sexual behaviors were repressed, ignored, and constrained in the discourse of the natural” (Cole, Avery, Dodson, and Goodman, 2012, p. 50). Additionally, many of those opposed to same-sex marriage argue that there is nothing natural in the union of two people of the same biological sexes because they cannot reproduce and “bring children into the world to seal and express the ‘marital unions’ that provide for the long-term nurture of those children” (Fisher, 2016, p. 147). They also believe that same-sex unions are immoral since it “redefine[s] marriage in a way that reduces it to emotions and sex” (Fisher, 2016, p. 155). Furthermore, they think that it “could lead to a legalization of incest, polygamy, or worse” (Cole, Avery, Dodson, and Goodman, 2012, p. 57). This non-acceptance of same-sex marriage does not only affect the external status of the marriage, but also the rights and benefits that come along with it. For instance, “same-sex couples are not able to claim Social Security survivor benefits, and health insurance obtained through a partner is not tax-exempt as it is for heterosexual married couples” (Hopkins, Sorensen, and Taylor, 2013, p. 101). Such economic inequalities make it difficult for the same-sex couple to support their family when only one of them is able to work or have medical and retirement benefits.
This issue with the legal merits of same-sex marriages carries over to issues of raising children. For example, “[l]esbian parents found themselves facing unfriendly courts and bureaucracies as they fought to maintain custody of children born into previous heterosexual relationships and attempted to gain access to reproductive medical technologies and parenthood rights for the non-biological parent” (Hopkins, Sorensen, and Taylor, 2013, p. 101). Same-sex couples also face challenges in other methods to becoming parents, such as in adoption, surrogacy, or artificial insemination. Fisher (2016) points out that “Catholic agencies have been forced [emphasis added] to place children with same-sex couples or close” (p. 156). This comment illustrates a negative attitude that some institutions have on same-sex couples wishing to adopt a child. In the United States, “family law is not standardized across jurisdictions, and some states have statutes specifically prohibiting lesbian and gay adoption” (Hopkins, Sorensen, and Taylor, 2013, p. 102). Many of those opposed to same-sex couples having children are concerned with the welfare of these children. They believe that “two opposite sex parents are necessary for children’s sex role development” (Cole, Avery, Dodson, and Goodman, 2012, p. 48) and that children with same-sex parents “suffer harm, including . . . emotional trauma from stigma associated with homophobia” (Cole, Avery, Dodson, and Goodman, 2012, p. 51).
Community Agencies and Organizations
When two individuals of the same-sex make the choice to enter a sacred union through marriage and reflect on having a family, they will most often have questions, concerns, worries and even fears that they will have to learn to build a successful family and go through hardships alone and without any help or support. If these families feel they need some external support provided for them, there are agencies out in the community that hold out open arms specifically to same-sex families and they provide a variety of services and convenient locations that these families can access during a time that best suits their needs.
The first agency that same-sex families can take into consideration is PFLAG Toronto. This organization is located at 200 Wolverleigh Boulevard in Toronto, Ontario (Toronto Pflag, 2016). “Toronto Pflag promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex, queer and questioning persons, their families and friends through: Support, to cope with an adverse society, and Education, to enlighten an ill-informed public in order to end discrimination and secure equal rights. Toronto Pflag provides opportunities for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of all human beings” (Toronto Pflag, 2016). Along with this mandate that this organization preaches, “this organization conducts a variety of workshops and presentations for businesses, schools and community groups to share information about diversity, promoting acceptance, and our personal experiences as inclusive families” (Toronto Pflag, 2016).
The second organization of interest is called LGBTQ Parenting Network and the location of this organization is Sherbourne Health Centre at 333 Sherbourne Street in Toronto, Ontario (LGBTQ Parenting Network, n.d.).“The LGBTQ Parenting Network is a program of Sherbourne Health Centre. We support lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer parenting through training, research, resource development and community organizing. We work with individuals, organizations, and communities from the local to the international” (LGBTQ Parenting Network, n.d.). A few of the services provided at this agency that portray their support are “family planning courses, groups and community listings” (LGBTQ Parenting Network, n.d.).
The third organization is Egale Canada. It is located at 185 Carlton Street in Toronto, Ontario (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, 2015), and this “national organization is committed to advancing equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified people, and their families, across Canada. Egale has members in every province and territory of the country. Our Board of Directors is comprised of an elected male and female representative from each of six regions of Canada. Egale maintains an active commitment to bringing an intersectional approach to our work, meaning that we recognize the linkages between different forms of oppression, including oppression based on race, sex, class, religion, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Respect for each individual’s full identity requires that our struggle for equality cannot be carried out in isolation from the struggle for equality of all disadvantaged communities” (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, 2015). The services Egale offers that support their mandate are “public education and international activities” (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, 2015).
The fourth organization is the Family Education Centre. The location provided is at their main office at 4 Sir Lou Drive in Brampton, Ontario (Family Education Centre, 2014). This organization strives to “empower families to build healthy relationships. We know that parenting is the toughest job you will ever have and the most rewarding. We also know that in today’s ever changing world with its constantly increasing demands, parenting is becoming more challenging than ever. Our goal is to support you in helping your children develop the skills they need to be able to thrive in today’s society and ultimately to grow up responsible, resilient and happy” (Family Education Centre, 2014). The services this organization uses to support same-sex families are “workshops, programs and courses that are provided for the general public, schools, workplaces and community partnerships” (Family Education Centre, 2014).
The fifth and final organization that will be useful in supporting same-sex families is the Gay Fathers of Toronto and the sole purpose of this organization is to “encourage and support every gay or bisexual dad to find the path that best fits his needs and situation. Coming out is not a single step but a journey of many steps. Together we travel that path a little more confidently and maybe make the journey a little easier” (Gay Fathers of Toronto, 2016). This agency is located at 519 Church Street in Toronto, Ontario (Gay Fathers of Toronto, 2016). Support group meetings are the primary service this organization offers for the families in need of support.
Key Strategies for Successful Same-Sex Families
Same-sex families are the same as any other family. They have their struggles and worries; but they are also able to laugh and enjoy one another’s company as memories are built. The hope is that, regardless of how bad all the hardships and difficult times might be, the family continues to grow and develop successfully. There are four keys to unlocking as successful a family as possible.
The first strategy is using the appropriate communication skills between the family. “Families that have the ability to communicate are open and honest with each other. All members of the family are confident in their right to express positive and negative feelings and know that their parents and siblings will be receptive. Members of the family are able to face conflict, not repress or ignore it” (Duaso-Fernandez, 2016). When feelings are expressed in a healthy and appropriate manner there is a greater chance that feelings will be validated, conflicts will be solved with mutual respect and understanding and positive reactions will serve as a reward when milestones are achieved.
The second strategy is displaying love and acceptance towards all members of the family. “Families that are able to verbally and physically express love and acceptance for each other are more successful. As a family, they act cooperative for the benefit of the family, not competitively” (Duaso-Fernandez, 2016). When love and acceptance is displayed among family members, there is unity and a sense of belonging which makes every one feel that they are not alone in a time of need.
The third strategy, is the acceptance of values and standards. When “parents are able to explicitly state values and expectations to their children, they know what the parent’s standards of behaviour and morality are, and thus will be more successful at meeting expectations. Parents, in turn, should be flexible and tolerant of children’s individual differences.” (Duaso-Fernandez, 2016). Having a clear understanding of the expectations in the family and being tolerant of one another’s differences is the sole foundation on which a family is built upon.
The final key to a successful family is having the ability to cope with problems. “When stress or crisis loom, successful families are able to face such challenges head on. Problem solving and brainstorming solutions are valued and utilized” (Duaso-Fernandez, 2016). In times of crises, the family should have a way of first taking a moment to digest the situation at hand and then proceed to discuss as many solutions to the problem as possible before choosing the solution that best fits the needs of the crisis at hand and the needs of the family.
Same-sex families are exponentially growing in number as a consequence of the Civil Marriage Act of Canada in 2005. More members of the society also support same-sex families each year. However, this type of family faces unique challenges as they contend with heterosexism and homophobia in our society. As educators, we inevitably come across same-sex families as part of our centres. It is our job to be supportive and accepting of them regardless of our bias towards same-sex families. This means being aware of available services and agencies in the community that could assist the families in our centre, as well as being knowledgeable about key strategies to successful families.
Cole, E. R., Avery, L. R, Dodson, C., and Goodman, K. D. (2012). Against nature: How arguments about the naturalness of marriage privilege heterosexuality. Journal of Social Issues, 68(1), 46-62. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2012.01735.x
Duaso-Fernandez, L. (2016). Understanding families. Brampton: Sheridan College.
Family Education Centre. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.familyedcentre.org
Fisher, A. (2016). Same-sex ‘marriage’: Evolution or deconstruction of marriage and the family?. Australasian Catholic Record, 93(2), 145-158. Retrieved from http://login.library.sheridanc.on.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.library.sheridanc.on.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=116904100&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Gay Fathers of Toronto. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.gayfathers-toronto.com/
Hopkins, J. J, Sorensen, A., and Taylor, V. (2013). Same-sex couples, families, and marriage: Embracing and resisting heteronormativity. Sociology Compass, 7(2), 91-110. doi:10.11111/soc4.12016
LGBTQ Parent Network. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://lgbtqpn.ca/
Lindell, R. (2012, September 19). Number of gay marriages in Canada triples: Census. Global News. Retrieved from http://globalnews.ca/news/288323/number-of-gay-marriages-in-canada-triples-census/
Luxton, M. (2011). Changing families, new understandings. In Contemporary Family Trends. Retrieved from http://vanierinstitute.ca/resources/contemporary-family-trends/
Minister of Industry. (2014). The 21st century to date. In Enduring diversity: Living arrangements of children in Canada over 100 years of the census. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91f0015m/2014011/05-eng.htm
Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network. (2015). Egale Canada. Retrieved from http://www.prevnet.ca/partners/organizations/egale-canada
Statistics Canada. (2012, September 19). Number of same-sex couples continues to increase. Census: families, households and marital status—Portrait of families and living arrangements in Canada. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-312-x/98-312-x2011001-eng.cfm
Statistics Canada. (2015, June 25). Same-sex couples and sexual orientation… by the numbers. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/dai/smr08/2015/smr08_203_2015
Toronto Pflag. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.torontopflag.org/