Toronto

Toronto, other Canadian cities now hubs for same-sex marriage: 2016 census

The latest release of 2016 census data paints a picture of LGBT life and the progress that has been made over a decade in Toronto and other Canadian cities, since gay marriage was legalized on July 20, 2005.

From 2006 to 2016, the number of same-sex couples increased by 60% across Canada

Toronto couple Michael Leshner (left) and Michael Stark (right) were the first same-sex union legally recognized in Canada in 2003. (CBC News)

The latest release of 2016 census data paints a picture of LGBT life and the progress that has been made over a decade in Toronto and other Canadian cities, since gay marriage was legalized on July 20, 2005. 

Statistics Canada says 72,880 people identify themselves as being part of a same-sex couple in Canada; representing nearly one per cent of all couples.

To date, there are 24,370 same-sex unions. These figures underline the big jump in the number of Canadians identifying themselves as LGBT. Compared to the 2006 census, the 2016 census shows a 60 per cent jump in the number of people reporting that they are in same-sex relationships. 

Major Canadian cities, including Toronto have become welcoming homes for same-sex couples, with half of the census respondents living in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or Ottawa. 

Ontario has the highest number of LGBT couples in the country, with Toronto listing 13,210 relationships. 

The number of same-sex couples has also risen at a higher rate than opposite-sex couples (+9.6 per cent). About one in eight same-sex couples have children compared to approximately half of opposite-sex couples. 

Toronto and other major Canadian cities have become popular places for LGBT communities and couples to live, according to the 2016 census. (CBC News)

Twelve years after Canada became the third nation in the world to legalize gay marriage, the numbers are finally showing the scope of the LGBT community across the country. Same-sex unions are no longer novel ideas in 2017; when public officials, prime ministers and throngs of supporters line the streets during Pride parades.

But back in 2003, the eyes of the nation were firmly fixed on the nuptials of the first gay couple to be legally married in Canada. 

Michael Leshner and Michael Stark tied the knot at Toronto City Hall on June 10 of that year.

'We just wanted to be equal'

Leshner and Stark affectionately refer to themselves as "The Two Michaels" and 14 years later, they say the census numbers tell a larger story of the progress of LGBT people in society. 

"When we met back in May of 1981, there was nothing. Literally nothing. And I don't think either one of us thought that we'd see such dramatic change in our lifetime," said Stark. 

Stark and Leshner's marriage is considered a landmark case in advancing the civil rights of LGBT Canadians. (CBC News)

Their marriage is considered a landmark case and seen as a precursor to the same-sex marriage legislation that was enacted across Canada two years later. 

Leshner said he's not surprised at the growth in reported gay marriage numbers, as more LGBT Canadians feel the freedom to be out. 

"As time goes on ... most people regard this as just normal, individual couples making individual choices ... Same-sex marriage should continue to increase."

While their wedding set marriage equality into motion and became an important civil rights case, both Michaels say that was never their intention — they merely wanted to be equal in the eyes of the law. 

Michael Leshner and Michael Stark were the first same-sex union legally recognized in Canada in 2003. They discuss the increase of same-sex couples based on 2016 census stats. 1:01

"All we've ever said is we want to make sure that the laws that govern Canada do not hold same-sex people back," Stark said. 

"You can decide if you want to get married or not but you shouldn't be told you can't do certain things legally, because then you're never going to reach your full potential."

Both men said they are happy to know more Canadians now have the freedom to choose marriage, no matter their orientation, and credit the census for painting a truthful portrait of the country.

"I think this is why we need the census — to always provide an accurate portrayal of Canada as it is."