The changing face of marriage: Mixed unions
CBC News Online | August 23, 2004

More couples in Canada are breaking old taboos than ever before. Of the 14.1 million Canadians in couple-relationships in 2001, 452,000 of them were in a mixed union. That's up 35 per cent in 10 years.

The figures are contained in a study released by Statistics Canada on June 8, 2004.

The researchers compared data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses. They looked at only certain types of mixed couples who were either married or living in a common-law relationship: What many people used to call "mixed marriages" say between a Roman Catholic and a Muslim or between Canadians of Anglo-Saxon and Italian backgrounds were not included in the numbers.

The study notes the numbers may be small 3.5 per cent of all couples in 2001 compared to 2.6 per cent in 1991 but they are growing at a faster rate than the number of people in non-mixed couples.

One reason mixed unions are becoming more common may be the rapid growth in the number of visible minorities in Canada. In 2001, the four million visible minorities in the country accounted for 13 per cent of the population. In 1981, the proportion was less than half that at five per cent.

In the United States, the growth of mixed unions has been even more marked. In 2001, mixed unions accounted for about five per cent of all American marriages that's up 1,000 per cent since 1967, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws still on the books in a few states forbidding marriage between the races were unconstitutional.

The first of those laws were passed to prevent freed black slaves from marrying whites. More laws were passed as large numbers of mostly male Chinese and Filipino workers entered the U.S. in the 1700s and 1800s.

While the trend is already growing rapidly, Statistics Canada suggests it could really take off as the nation's youth get older. The proportion of mixed-union couples among people aged 20 to 29 is about twice that of their older counterparts, according to the report.

The survey found that young and highly-educated city dwellers are more likely to be in a mixed union and that those factors could also play a part in fostering a greater acceptance of diversity and a more universal outlook.

It has worked for Loraine Ouimet and Alan Prader of Montreal. He's black and English, she's white and French. They've been together for more than 17 years.

"I feel sorry for people who are uncomfortable or who are racist. They're not only hurting others but they're hurting themselves, because they reduce the pool of people who want to find love," Ouimet said. "All of this would not have happened if we weren't open."

Rev. Martha Nell Thompson of Wesley United Church in Montreal is marrying more mixed couples than ever. When she goes through pre-marriage counselling with those couples, acceptance by the extended family is becoming less of an issue.

"The weddings that I have performed have reflected the society, again," Thompson said.

But for some, like Jane Lu, acceptance by the family is still difficult. Lu's background is Chinese. She's engaged to a white man. Her older sisters also married white men, much to their father's disappointment.

"He did not attend their weddings," Lu said. "It was very difficult for us to understand why. We tried to get him to open up a little bit but he just continued his stubborn way. I don't expect him to come to my wedding, but I think he's come to learn and accept."

Another survey suggests the number of people objecting to their children entering a mixed union is dropping. More than 80 per cent reported they were comfortable or very comfortable with their children marrying a visible minority.

"It makes a very positive statement about society and its degree of openness to other communities, and the continued breakdown of stereotypes and prejudice," Jack Jedwab, the executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, told CBC News.

According to the Statistics Canada figures, Japanese were the most likely to be in mixed unions. Of the 25,100 couples in Canada that include at least one Japanese person, 70 per cent were mixed. The study's authors said the high rate of mixed unions among people of Japanese background is partially due to their long history in Canada mixed unions tend to increase with subsequent generations.

Latin Americans had the second-highest rate of involvement in mixed unions at 45 per cent. Blacks are next at 43 per cent.

Chinese and South Asians are at the opposite end of the spectrum with mixed union rates of 16 and 13 per cent respectively. One key reason, StatsCan says, is both groups are large and tend be concentrated in urban areas. This gives members of those groups lots of opportunity to meet someone within their own group.