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SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

CANADIAN PUBLIC OPINION POLLS
1996 to 2002

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See also descriptions of polls for other years
 

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Overview:

A battle has been in progress for years over whether equal rights and equal protection against discrimination should be extended to homosexuals. Recently, this has expanded into the area of same-sex marriage (SSM). The core conflict is whether:

bullet Marriage should be a special privilege of heterosexuals -- reserved for couples composed of one man and one woman. This is currently required by legislation in most jurisdictions and supported by social conservatives and most mainline religious institutions in North America, or 
bullet Whether all adults in loving, supportive, and committed relationships -- whether opposite-sex or same-sex -- should be allowed to marry or enter into civil unions. This is proposed by many liberal religious groups and some secular organizations.

Since mid-1996, most Canadian adults appear to favor same-sex marriage (SSM). There is a significant difference among Canadians according to their location:

bullet Residents of Quebec generally exhibit the highest support.
bullet Residents of the Prairie Provinces are much less supportive.

There is a major difference in support between young and elderly adults:

bullet Adults under the age of 30 are generally much more supportive than the average.
bullet Adults over the age of 55 are generally much less supportive.

Senior courts, in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon have concluded that denial of marriage to gays and lesbians is unconstitutional.

By 2004-AUG, the controversy in Canada about same-sex marriage seems to have decreased significantly. There have been fewer than one letter to the editor each week published in  the Toronto Star -- one of Canada's largest newspapers -- on this topic during the Summer.

Support for same-sex marriage is higher in Canada than in the U.S. Year 2002 data from the U.S. appears to be close to Canadian data from 1996. We attribute the difference to the much larger percentage of Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians in the U.S., compared to Canada.

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1996-JUN:

An national Angus Reid / Southam News poll was conducted across Canada. Angus Reid is Canada's leading polling research group; the Southam News is a large news organization in the country. 1

Group Opposed In favor
Overall results 47% 49%
Ages 18 to 34 31% 67%
Ages 35 to 54 46% 49%
Ages over 54 69% 25%

Support for legal recognition of same-sex marriages varies greatly across the country: 58% in Quebec, 38% in Alberta. Opposition was highest in Alberta at 59%; in the Prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 54%; and in Ontario at 53%. Ontario is Canada's most populous province. Alberta is religiously very conservative.

At about the same time as this survey, the ICR Survey Research Group of Media, PA conducted a poll of American adults. It reported a much greater opposition to gay/lesbian marriage:

Group Opposed In favor
Overall results 57% 30% 
Females responded

49%

Persons under 35 47% 47%

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1999-JUN:

The Angus Reid Group conducted a survey for the Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper) and CTV (a TV network) from MAY-25 to MAY-30. The question was "Do you think homosexual couples who wish to marry should or should not qualify for legal recognition of the marriage?" The opinion of people under the age of 35 was unchanged over the previous 3 years; those over 34 showed the greatest increase in acceptance. 2

Group Opposed In favor
Overall results 44% 53%
Adults in Quebec 36% 61%
Adults in British Columbia 43% 54%
Adults in Ontario 44% 53%
Adults in Atlantic Canada 49% 48%
Adults in Alberta 56% 43%
Adults in Saskatchewan and Manitoba 53% 42%
Ages 18 to 34 32% 66%
Ages 35 to 54 40% 57%
Ages over 54 64% 32%
University graduates   59%
Persons who did not complete high school   38%
Males 47% 50%
Females 41% 56%

The margin of error is 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

One wonders what the results would have been if a second question had been added: whether the subjects were in favor of "civil unions" for same sex couples that granted the same benefits, rights and obligations as a marriage. The results would probably have been considerably more than 53% in favor. That is because many people want to reserve the word "marriage" to refer to a male-female union, while they would like to see gay and lesbian couples get equal rights.

The Canadian Members of Parliament are clearly out of synchronization with the Canadian people:

bullet On 1999-JUN-8, Canada's Parliament voted overwhelmingly (216 - 55) in favor of a motion that affirmed that marriage must be restricted to one man and one woman. 
bullet In 2000-MAR, a bill was introduced into the House of Commons to wipe out 86 instances of discrimination against gays and lesbians in federal legislation. The bill contained a statement that was unrelated to the content of the rest of the bill; it confirmed that marriage was only between one man and one woman.

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2000-DEC? Maclean's/Global TV year end poll:

bullet 44% opposed the recognition of same-sex marriages
bullet 40% favored recognition
bullet 16% either had no preference or did not respond.

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2001-APR:

The Environics Research Group surveyed 2,035 adult Canadians between APR-5 and APR-24, 2001. The margin of error is 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.

Canadians were asked whether they supported or opposed allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. The question was worded: "Currently, gay and lesbian couples have the same treatment under Canadian federal law as common-law heterosexual couples. Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry?" This is a bit of a trick question, because it starts of by saying that same-sex couples already have equal rights. Then it asks whether gay and lesbian couples should be given more rights than common-law couples. This may trigger a negative reaction, producing a lower supportive percentage response.

Results were:

Response Percentage
Strongly support 29%
Somewhat support 16%
Somewhat oppose 11%
Strongly oppose 30%

This implies 45% in favor and 41% opposed to same-sex marriage. 3

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2001-JUN: Canadian Press / Leger Marketing survey:

In 2001-JUN, Canadian Press / Leger Marketing reported on a survey of 1,507 randomly selected Canadian adults on the topic of homosexuality and homosexuals. The survey was conducted between JUN-5 and JUN-13, 2001. The margin of error is within 2.6%, 19 times out of 20.

Results were:

bullet

75.6% of Canadians feel that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexuals; 19.5% disagreed.

bullet

When asked specifically about expanding marriage to include same-sex couples, a smaller percentage (65.4%) agreed. However, 80.5% of those polled between the ages of 18 and 34 support same-sex marriage. 1

bullet

18.6% of adult Canadians wish to retain marriage, adoption and tax breaks as special privileges for heterosexuals only, and not extend any equal rights to gays and lesbian couples.

Groups who strongly support same-sex marriage include:

bullet

73.6% of salespeople and white-collar workers.

bullet

74.0% of individuals in families with an annual income between 40,000 and 60,000.

bullet

73.3% of individuals who have attended university.

bullet

80.5% of those between 18 and 34 years of age.

bullet

77.8% of Francophones.

bullet

76.5% of the residents of Quebec. 4

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2002-JUN: Focus on the Family Canada / Strategic Counsel poll:

Strategic Counsel conducted a poll on behalf of the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family Canada. They asked the question: "As you may be aware, there has been discussion in the past few years about whether homosexual couples should be allowed to become legally married in Canada. Do you, personally, believe that homosexual couples should or should not be allowed to marry?" They found that 46% of Canadians favored same-sex marriage; 44% disagreed. According to Marriage Equality New York, Focus on the Family "...was so surprised by the result that it omitted the entire section from its mailings to the media." 5 Support among those under the age of 40 is at 60%; support by those over 39 is 39%. 6

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Why do the previous two polls disagree?

It is doubtful that the support for same-sex marriage has dropped by almost 20% over a 12 month period. We suspect that both the Canadian Press and Focus on the Family Canada polls are heavily biased.

Such bias is impossible to overcome in a poll. For example, one question asked during the Leger Marketing poll contains at least two sources of inaccuracy that would lead to an underestimate: reluctance of the subject to tell the truth, and ambiguity of the question. 4

bullet Reluctance: Asked whether the subject had "had a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex." Amazingly, 2.6% of the individuals polled said "yes." While this may be an accurate estimate of the percentage of adult Canadians who would admit over the phone to a stranger to having a same-sex relationship, it is probably an underestimate of the actual number Canadians who have been sexually active with a member of the same gender.
bullet Ambiguity: The question asked if they had had a "sexual relationship" with a person of the same sex. Some subjects might consider this to include a one-night stand. Others might personally define "relationship" as involving an emotional connection of a significant duration.

The answers given about same-sex marriage might have been seriously biased:

bullet In the Canadian Press survey, Question 2 asked "In your opinion, should homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals?" 76% of the subjects responded "Yes." There is no record in their report as to the nature of Question 3. However, Question 4 asked "In your opinion, should we grant homosexuals the following legal rights...same-sex marriage?" Since more than three out of four subjects already said that they were in favor of equal rights for gays and lesbians, many would feel pressured to affirm same-sex marriage. Otherwise, they might feel that they would be considered to be inconsistent in their views.
bullet In the Focus on the Family Canada survey, the two questions (#59 and 60) preceding the question on same-sex marriage (#60) were whether "marriage is an outdated institution" and "Is it alright for married people to have sex with people other that their spouse?" Those questions may have preconditioned the subjects to feel defensively towards marriage just before they were asked about their support for same-sex marriage.

Please note that we are not implying that the bias in these polls was intentional. It may have been incompetence, carelessness, or simply a random effect caused by the order of the questions.

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2002-OCT: Centre for Research and Information on Canada poll

The results were:

bullet 53% of Canadian adults supported SSM
bullet 41% opposed it
bullet 6% were unsure or refused to answer.

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2002-NOV: Ekos/CBC poll:

Ekos Research Associates conducted a poll commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Commission on 2002-OCT-29 to 31. There were 1,006 adults interviewed. The margin of error is within 2.5%. Results were:

bullet When asked "The federal government is considering changing the definition of marriage –from a union of a man and a woman to one that could include same-sex couple. If a referendum was [sic] held on this issue, how would you vote?," the results were:
bullet 45% would approve allowing same-sex couples to marry.
bullet 47% would oppose SSM
bullet 8% either did not know or had no response. 7
bullet The expected variation across Canada was found:
bullet 54% in favor of SSM in Quebec,
bullet 46% in Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island),
bullet 42% in Ontario,
bullet 42% in British Columbia,
bullet 40% in Alberta, and
bullet 38% in the Prairies (Manitoba and Saskatchewan).
bullet The expected variation with age was found:
bullet 59% in favor among the 18 to 24 year olds,
bullet 55% among 25 to 44,
bullet 40% among 45 to 64, and
bullet 20% among those 65 and over.
bullet There is more support among the educated:
bullet 34% for adults who had not completed high school,
bullet 45% for those who had completed college, and
bullet 56% for adults who completed university. 7

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Related essays in this web site include:

bullet Same-sex marriage polls during 2003
 
bullet Information about Canadian polls on other les/gay topics
 
bullet Canadian legislation and court battles about same-sex marriage and civil unions

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References:

  1. Angus Reid Group, Inc; poll released on 1996-JUN-7
  2. "Most in poll want gay marriages legalized," The Globe and Mail, 1999-JUN-10, Pages A1 A8, A16
  3. "Most Canadians Favour Gay Marriage; Approval of Homosexuality Continues to Increase," Environics Research Group, 2001-MAY-10, at: http://erg.environics.net/
  4. Canadian Press / Leger Marketing, "Canadian Perceptions of Homosexuality," 2001-JUN-22. See: http://www.legermarketing.com/ **
  5. "Canadian Attitudes on the Family: Complete Report 2002," Focus on the Family Canada at: http://www.fotf.ca/ **
  6. "What Canadians think about gay issues," The Globe and Mail, 2003-JUN-11, Page A4.
  7. "Public Attitudes toward same-sex marriage," EKOS Research Associates, 2002-NOV-10, at: http://www.cbc.ca/  **
  8. "Canadians split over gay marriage," FamilyFacts.ca, 2001-JAN-4-7, at: http://www.fotf.ca/

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Copyright 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1996-SEP-25
Latest update: 2005-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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