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Same-sex couples feel pressured to marry: study

By Eric MacKenzie

FOTOLIA

FOTOLIA

More than a decade since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, gay and lesbian couples are now feeling an increased pressure to wed.

Those were the findings of a recent study by researchers in UBC’s Department of Sociology.

“I wasn’t expecting people to say how much that having access to marriage changed their interactions with others,” said Katherine Lyon, who co-authored the study with Hélène Frohard-Dourlent.

“People would be sitting at the bus stop and people would want to talk to them about their relationship and if ... and when they wanted to get married.”

The findings came out of in-depth interviews with 22 men and women from same-sex couples, many of whom felt their family or others in their social circle would not view their relationship with the same legitimacy unless they were married.

Marriage is still considered the heterosexual relationship pinnacle even as cohabitation rates rise, Lyon and Frohard-Dourlent wrote. But not all study participants felt the same was true for them, either because they rejected the institution or had established relationships long before marriage was an option, and thus was never an end goal.

“I don’t think gay marriage equality advocates were fighting for marriage equality so that every couple had to get married,” said Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who married his husband in 2010. “It was so people could get married if they wanted to be and legally be acknowledged in that way.

“I would hate to get to a point where the only couple that could ever be acknowledged is a married couple.”

The study’s findings raise the question of whether same-sex couples getting the same pressure to wed as heterosexual partners do is a marker of marriage equality, or if it’s more an expectation to adhere to the traditional, heterosexual relationship structure.

“It’s probably a bit of both,” said Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson, who is married to his longtime partner. “I think it does show marriage equality that couples are coming under the same type of pressure.

“But I do think that gay couples — and straight couples, but to a larger degree with gay couples still — will buck that and say, ‘We’re not going to bend to societal norms.’”