The day before the Ontario Superior Court ruling allowing same-sex marriages, Statistics Canada noted a marked increase in the number of couples choosing common-law arrangements over marriage. The July 11 report, entitled “Changing conjugal life in Canada,” was based on data compiled from the 2001 General Social Survey. The study showed that close to 1.2 million couples were living in a common-law relationship, up 20 per cent from 1995. The number of married couples increased a mere three per cent to 6.4 million.

The study found that those in younger age brackets, in particular, 20-29 and 30-39, are choosing common-law relationships over marriage. It was estimated that a majority of women 20-29, for instance, would choose common-law over marriage as their first conjugal relationship. A slight plurality of men in their 20s would likewise prefer cohabitation.

However, more than 70 per cent of Canadians said they would eventually want to enter into marriages.

Numerous other studies have proven that common-law relationships are inherently less stable, and are twice as likely to end in separation as formal marriages. Indeed, the Stats Can study confirms it. “More than 30 per cent of men and women aged 40 to 59 who started their conjugal relationships through marriage are expected to separate, whereas the proportion was more than twice as high among their counterparts who started their conjugal relationships through common-law,” says the report.

As Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter noted, “Living together isn’t trial marriage, it’s trial divorce.”

However, noting that polls about society’s attitudes are roughly in sync with the increasing number of co-habitators, Gunter adds, “Yet we don’t want to condemn it.”

A recent Focus on the Family of Canada survey found that 63 per cent of Canadians under the age of 40 agreed with the statement that “living together tends to improve the chances for a happy, successful marriage.”

MP Paul Szabo (Lib – Mississauga South) explained in an interview with Focus on the Family why common-law relationships fail more frequently: