CANADIAN PUBLIC OPINION POLLS
1996 to 2002
A battle has been in progress for years over whether equal rights and equal protection
against discrimination should be extended to homosexuals. Recently, this has expanded into
the area of same-sex marriage (SSM). The core conflict is whether:
|Marriage should be a special privilege of heterosexuals -- reserved
for couples composed of one
man and one woman. This is currently required by legislation in most
jurisdictions and supported by social conservatives and
most mainline religious institutions in North America, or |
|Whether all adults in loving, supportive, and committed relationships
-- whether opposite-sex or same-sex -- should be allowed to
marry or enter into civil unions. This is proposed by many liberal religious groups and some
Since mid-1996, most Canadian adults appear to favor same-sex marriage
(SSM). There is a significant difference among Canadians according to
|Residents of Quebec generally exhibit the highest support.|
|Residents of the Prairie Provinces are much less supportive.|
There is a major difference in support between young and elderly
|Adults under the age of 30 are generally much more supportive than the
|Adults over the age of 55 are generally much less supportive.|
Senior courts, in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec,
Saskatchewan, and Yukon have concluded
that denial of marriage to gays and lesbians is unconstitutional.
By 2004-AUG, the controversy in Canada about same-sex marriage seems to
have decreased significantly. There have been fewer than one letter to the
editor each week published in the Toronto Star -- one of Canada's largest newspapers -- on this
topic during the Summer.
Support for same-sex marriage is higher in Canada than in the U.S. Year
2002 data from the U.S. appears to be close to Canadian data from 1996. We
attribute the difference to the much larger percentage of Fundamentalist
and other Evangelical Christians in the U.S., compared to Canada.
An national Angus Reid / Southam News poll was conducted across
Canada. Angus Reid is Canada's leading polling research
group; the Southam News is a large news organization in the country. 1
|Ages 18 to 34
|Ages 35 to 54
|Ages over 54
Support for legal recognition of same-sex marriages varies greatly across the country:
58% in Quebec, 38% in Alberta. Opposition was highest in Alberta at 59%; in the
provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 54%; and in Ontario at 53%. Ontario is
Canada's most populous province. Alberta is religiously very conservative.
At about the same time as this survey, the ICR Survey Research Group
of Media, PA conducted a poll of American adults. It reported a much greater
opposition to gay/lesbian marriage:
|Persons under 35
The Angus Reid Group
conducted a survey for the Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper) and CTV (a TV
network) from MAY-25 to MAY-30. The question was "Do you think homosexual couples
who wish to marry should or should not qualify for legal recognition of the marriage?"
The opinion of people under the age of 35 was unchanged over the previous 3 years; those
over 34 showed the greatest increase in acceptance. 2
|Adults in Quebec
|Adults in British Columbia
|Adults in Ontario
|Adults in Atlantic Canada
|Adults in Alberta
|Adults in Saskatchewan and Manitoba
|Ages 18 to 34
|Ages 35 to 54
|Ages over 54
|Persons who did not complete high school
The margin of error is 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
One wonders what the results would have been if a second question had been
added: whether the subjects were in favor of "civil unions" for same
sex couples that granted the same benefits, rights and obligations as a
marriage. The results would probably have been considerably more than 53% in
favor. That is because many people want to reserve the word "marriage" to refer
to a male-female union, while they would like to see gay and lesbian couples get
The Canadian Members of Parliament are clearly out of synchronization with the Canadian
|On 1999-JUN-8, Canada's Parliament voted overwhelmingly (216 - 55)
in favor of a motion that affirmed that marriage must be restricted to one man and one woman. |
|In 2000-MAR, a bill was introduced into the House of Commons to wipe out
86 instances of discrimination against gays and lesbians in federal
legislation. The bill contained a statement that was unrelated to the
content of the rest of the bill; it confirmed that marriage was only between
one man and one woman.|
2000-DEC? Maclean's/Global TV year end poll:
|44% opposed the recognition of same-sex marriages|
|40% favored recognition|
|16% either had no preference or did not respond.|
The Environics Research Group
surveyed 2,035 adult Canadians between APR-5 and APR-24, 2001. The margin of
error is 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.
Canadians were asked whether they supported or opposed allowing gay and
lesbian couples to marry. The question was worded: "Currently, gay and
lesbian couples have the same treatment under Canadian federal law as common-law
heterosexual couples. Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat
oppose or strongly oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry?"
This is a bit of a trick question, because it starts of by saying that same-sex
couples already have equal rights. Then it asks whether gay and lesbian couples
should be given more rights than common-law couples. This may trigger a negative
reaction, producing a lower supportive percentage response.
This implies 45% in favor and 41% opposed to same-sex marriage.
2001-JUN: Canadian Press / Leger Marketing survey:
In 2001-JUN, Canadian Press / Leger Marketing reported on a
survey of 1,507 randomly selected Canadian adults on the topic of homosexuality
and homosexuals. The survey was conducted between JUN-5 and JUN-13, 2001. The
margin of error is within 2.6%, 19 times out of 20.
75.6% of Canadians feel that gays and lesbians should have the
same rights as heterosexuals; 19.5% disagreed.
When asked specifically about expanding marriage to include
same-sex couples, a smaller percentage (65.4%) agreed. However, 80.5%
of those polled between the ages of 18 and 34 support same-sex marriage. 1
18.6% of adult Canadians wish to retain marriage, adoption and
tax breaks as special privileges for heterosexuals only, and not extend any
equal rights to gays and lesbian couples.
Groups who strongly support same-sex marriage include:
73.6% of salespeople and white-collar workers.
74.0% of individuals in families with an annual income between
40,000 and 60,000.
73.3% of individuals who have attended university.
80.5% of those between 18 and 34 years of age.
77.8% of Francophones.
76.5% of the residents of Quebec. 4
2002-JUN: Focus on the Family Canada / Strategic Counsel poll:
Strategic Counsel conducted a poll on behalf
of the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family Canada.
They asked the question: "As you may be aware, there has been
discussion in the past few years about whether homosexual couples should
be allowed to become legally married in Canada. Do you, personally,
believe that homosexual couples should or should not be allowed to marry?"
They found that 46% of Canadians favored same-sex marriage; 44%
disagreed. According to Marriage Equality New York, Focus on the
Family "...was so surprised by the result that it omitted the
entire section from its mailings to the media." 5
Support among those under the age of 40 is at 60%; support by those over
39 is 39%. 6
Why do the previous two polls disagree?
It is doubtful that the support for same-sex marriage has dropped by
almost 20% over a 12 month period. We suspect that both the Canadian
Press and Focus on the Family Canada polls are heavily
Such bias is impossible to overcome in a poll. For example, one question
asked during the Leger Marketing poll contains at least two sources
of inaccuracy that would lead to an underestimate: reluctance of the subject
to tell the truth, and ambiguity of the question. 4
|Reluctance: Asked whether the subject had "had a sexual
relationship with a person of the same sex." Amazingly, 2.6% of the
individuals polled said "yes." While this may be an accurate
estimate of the percentage of adult Canadians who would admit over the
phone to a stranger to having a same-sex relationship, it is probably an
underestimate of the actual number Canadians who have been sexually active
with a member of the same gender. |
|Ambiguity: The question asked if they had had a "sexual
relationship" with a person of the same sex. Some subjects might
consider this to include a one-night stand. Others might personally define
"relationship" as involving an emotional connection of a
significant duration. |
The answers given about same-sex marriage might have been seriously
|In the Canadian Press survey, Question 2 asked "In your opinion,
should homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals?" 76% of the
subjects responded "Yes." There is no record in their report as to
the nature of Question 3. However, Question 4 asked "In
your opinion, should we grant homosexuals the following legal
rights...same-sex marriage?" Since more than three out of four
subjects already said that they were in favor of equal rights for gays and
lesbians, many would feel pressured to affirm same-sex marriage.
Otherwise, they might feel that they would be considered to be
inconsistent in their views.|
|In the Focus on the Family Canada survey, the two questions
(#59 and 60) preceding the question on same-sex marriage (#60) were
whether "marriage is an outdated institution" and "Is it alright
for married people to have sex with people other that their spouse?"
Those questions may have preconditioned the subjects to feel defensively
towards marriage just before they were asked about their support for
Please note that we are not implying that the bias in these polls was
intentional. It may have been incompetence, carelessness, or simply a random
effect caused by the order of the questions.
2002-OCT: Centre for Research and
Information on Canada poll
The results were:
|53% of Canadian adults supported SSM|
|41% opposed it|
|6% were unsure or refused to answer.|
2002-NOV: Ekos/CBC poll:
Ekos Research Associates conducted a poll commissioned by the
Canadian Broadcasting Commission on 2002-OCT-29 to 31. There were 1,006
adults interviewed. The margin of error is within 2.5%. Results were:
|When asked "The federal government is considering changing the
definition of marriage –from a union of a man and a woman to one that
could include same-sex couple. If a referendum was [sic] held on this
issue, how would you vote?," the results were:|
|45% would approve allowing same-sex couples to marry.
|47% would oppose SSM|
|8% either did not know or had no response. 7|
|The expected variation across Canada was
|54% in favor of SSM in Quebec,|
|46% in Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick,
Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island),|
|42% in Ontario,|
|42% in British Columbia,|
|40% in Alberta, and|
|38% in the Prairies (Manitoba and
|The expected variation with age was found:|
|59% in favor among the 18 to 24 year
|55% among 25 to 44,|
|40% among 45 to 64, and|
|20% among those 65 and over.|
|There is more support among the educated:|
|34% for adults who had not completed high school,|
|45% for those who had completed college, and|
|56% for adults who completed university.
Related essays in this web site include:
- Angus Reid Group, Inc; poll released on 1996-JUN-7
- "Most in poll want gay marriages legalized," The Globe and
Mail, 1999-JUN-10, Pages A1 A8, A16
- "Most Canadians Favour Gay
Marriage; Approval of Homosexuality Continues to Increase," Environics
Research Group, 2001-MAY-10, at:
- Canadian Press / Leger
Marketing, "Canadian Perceptions of Homosexuality," 2001-JUN-22. See:
- "Canadian Attitudes on the Family: Complete Report 2002,"
Focus on the Family Canada at:
- "What Canadians think about gay issues," The Globe
and Mail, 2003-JUN-11, Page A4.
- "Public Attitudes toward same-sex marriage," EKOS Research
Associates, 2002-NOV-10, at:
- "Canadians split over gay marriage," FamilyFacts.ca,
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Copyright © 1996 to 2005 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1996-SEP-25
Latest update: 2005-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson