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Gay couples feel pressure to marry and conform, UBC study finds

Unmarried same-sex couples in Canada feel under pressure to tie the knot, according to a recent study by the University of British Columbia.

'Suddenly more people wanted to talk to them about their relationship and getting married'

A married couple holds hands after joining over 100 gay couples in a mass wedding during World Pride 2014 at Casa Loma in Toronto, on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Unmarried same-sex couples in Canada feel pressure to tie the knot, according to a recent study by the University of British Columbia.

Researchers from UBC's Department of Sociology spoke to 22 people in Toronto in same-sex common-law relationships, to see if being given the right to marry in 2005 had affected how they see their relationship.

Their findings, entitled'Let's Talk about the Institution': Same-Sex Common-Law Partners Negotiating Marriage Equality and Relationship Legitimacy, were published in the Canadian Review of Sociology late last year.

"It was surprising how prominent marriage became in participants' lives," said Katherine Lyon, who co-authored the study with Hélène Frohard-Dourlent.

"Suddenly more people wanted to talk to them about their relationship and getting married," said Lyon, noting this was the case even if the couple did not see their relationship heading in that direction.

According to a press release about the study, LGBTQ couples — lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or questioning — unable to marry, had built relationships outside of the status quo  but now feel expected to conform.

"A lot of participants came of age when coming out meant letting go of access to marriage," Lyon noted. 

"On a legal level, same-sex marriage is essential. But socially, when you get access to a new rite or institution like marriage, it can change how people think about themselves and their relationship."

Many people thought their relationship would be seen as more legitimate if they got married, the research found, particularly in circles where they still experience prejudice.

Researchers concluded this perception shows that marriage is still the ideal in Canadian society, even as more people are cohabiting. Lyons believes their findings could have significant implications for queer activism.

"Now that marriage is legal, will we see LGBTQ politics and ideas about relationships shift in the coming decades?" asked Lyon.

"Have we eliminated relationship hierarchies or have we just extended a dominant ideal to a new group of people?"

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