MACLEAN’S/CBC NEWS POLL

The edge of tolerance

Canadians balk at gay couples adopting children

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER December 30 1996
MACLEAN’S/CBC NEWS POLL

The edge of tolerance

Canadians balk at gay couples adopting children

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER December 30 1996

The edge of tolerance

Canadians balk at gay couples adopting children

MACLEAN’S/CBC NEWS POLL

It’s love, ’90s style. “We met on the Internet,” says Carole Moon in a soft Alabama drawl, warming to the subject of her soon-to-be spouse. “Very quickly, we absolutely clicked.” Then, last summer, after months of on-line intimacy and two brief visits, the 32-year-old single mother gave up her job as a secretary in Auburn, Ala., and moved to Vancouver to live with her new partner, Kristine Vaughan. The two women plan to marry in January, and Vaughan, a 23-year-old real estate assistant, has applied to adopt Moon’s 10-yearold biological daughter, Lindsey. ‘We are as close to a heterosexual couple as you can get,” says Moon—although not close enough for her conservative family, who will not attend the wedding. “But Kristine’s parents have been great,” she adds. “At first, they were taken aback, but they have been very supportive.” Moon, who says she feared discrimination in her native Alabama, is heartened by Canadians’ acceptance of their unconventional relationship. “Here, if we hold hands in the grocery store, it’s no big deal,” she adds. “Nobody says anything.”

Most Canadians, it seems, are prepared to live and let love. More than half of the respondents to this year’s Maclean’s/CEC News poll—

53 per cent—say that attitudes towards “premarital sex, couples living together before marriage and alternative lifestyles and sexuality” are “about right.” Another 11 per cent think that Canada is “not permissive enough.” But at the same time, about 34 per cent of respondents—including many seniors like Frances Mino, a retired school teacher from Mount Albert, Ont.—believe that Canada is “too permissive.” The issue, says Mino, is clear: “Promiscuous sex is breaking the moral foundation of our society.” But the majority of Canadians take Muriel Nelson’s middle-of-the-road approach. “People say, ‘Oh Lord, when is it going to end?’ ” observes the retired Edmonton nurse. “But if permissiveness means trying to understand another person’s lifestyle and point of view, then I am somewhat permissive.” Same-sex couples like Moon and Vaughan, however, might not encounter such tolerance in other regions of Canada. While 66 per cent of British Columbians say they are open to “alternative lifestyles and sexuality”—second only to 77 per cent of Quebecers— poll results show a much more conservative attitude on the Prairies, especially in rural areas. “It’s not too friendly here,” says Peggy Ward, a 37-year-old folk singer who lives in Calgary with her partner, Cheryl, 33, and their three young children. ‘We get stared at by other parents when we go to the schools for our kids, we get stared

at when we stand in line at Safeway,” says Ward. “Lots of gays and lesbians move away and lots stay in the closet. What we’d really like is just be able to go out to a restaurant and hold hands and not have it become a political act.”

While most Canadians express an acceptance of alternative lifestyles, the line is quickly drawn when children enter the equation. Only 33 per cent of poll respondents find adoption by homosexual couples acceptable. The great majority, 65 per cent, reject

the notion. The question of adoption, notes pollster Allan Gregg, “is where same-sex equality starts breaking down —when you inject the issue of children, everything starts to get very, very different very, very quickly.” It is a sensitive issue, says openly gay Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard. “I have had no discrimination in my riding,” he says. “But I’m not sure a majority of people would recognize my right to adoption.”

To University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, the poll results reveal a growing backlash against gay rights. Bibby, who has tracked social trends in Canada for nearly two decades, notes that although support for gay rights climbed from 50 per cent to 80 per cent between 1975 and 1990, more recent polls indicate that it has dropped to 65 per cent. “In theory, people thought it was appropriate that homosexuals should have the same rights,” says Bibby. “But as the gay community becomes more overt in areas like same-sex benefits and adoption, people are backing up a bit.”

But not young Canadians. The poll shows that respondents ages 18 to 24 are more likely than their elders to accept the adoption of children by homosexual couples. They are also much less likely to think Canada is too permissive. Ottawa sex therapist Sue McGarvie believes those attitudes in younger generations are leading to “a new sexual revolution.” At a recent public appearance in an Ottawa department store, McGarvie—who hosts what may be the most graphically sexual open-line radio show in the country—observed that when she talked about positions for intercourse, “the bluehaired set was flipping out,” while younger listeners appeared very receptive. “Sex is no longer about morals, it’s no longer a preachy religious issue,” adds McGarvie, 30. “It’s OK. Let’s do it so it feels good in our hearts and feels good in our bodies.”

And, according to the poll findings, sex is making a comeback. This year, 65 per cent of respondents report that they are sexually active—of whom 12 per cent claim that they are “very sexually

say society is too permissive in its attitudes towards things like premarital sex, people living together without marrying and other alternative lifestyles. 53% say its attitudes are “about right.”

Q / find the notion of homosexual couples adopting 'ÍA children unacceptable. That attitude is most V prevalent in the Prairie provinces (75%).

active.” Though that number is still below the high of 74 per cent in Maclean’s first year-end survey in 1985, it ends the steady decline in sexual activity that began at the height of the AIDS scare in the mid-1980s. “For a while, people slowed down because of AIDS,” says Paul Sachdev, a professor of social work who teaches a course in human sexuality at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld. “Now, we are desensitized, the scare is at the back of the mind and there is more risk-taking.” Love-making appears to be most frequent among those ages 35 to 44, but a high income and better education also go hand in hand with more sex. And despite the image of the swinging big city, there was almost no difference in sexual activity among city and country dwellers. There is a significant gender gap, however, with 75 per cent of men claiming to be “somewhat” or “very sexually active,” compared with only 56 per cent of women. But Gregg, along with other experts, acknowledges that locker-room style exaggeration may play a part in some responses. “Is it really the case?” asks Bibby. “Or is it the way men think they should respond in our culture?”

Sachdev may have chosen the most fruitful spot in Canada to study human sexuality. Once again, as in all 12 previous yearend polls, Newfoundland outstrips every other province, with 78 per cent of respondents claiming to be sexually active. “There is nothing much to do with the depression in the economy,” explains Sachdev, “so you channel your energies in another direction.” Quebec comes a close second, with 75 per cent saying they are sexually active. Saskatchewan, where just 51 per cent of respondents report sexual activity, holds down last place.

One of the most unexpected findings is in the prolonged sex lives of baby boomers, many of whom are now in their 50s. “In earlier polls, we noticed a real drop-off in sexual activity at age 45,” says Gregg. “Now, that doesn’t happen until 55. It appears to have been pushed back an entire decade.” On reflection that is not surprising, he adds, for a “generation has been tenaciously hanging on to their youth.” Sachdev offers an academic rationale. “There is a strong correlation between the extent to which you are sexually active during your younger years and the likelihood you will be sexually active in later years,” he says. “So, ‘Use it or lose it.’ ” Again, Bibby wonders if the numbers are just wishful thinking by image-conscious boomers—notoriously stretched for time. Or is there still a whole lot of lovin’ goin’ on?

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER

SEX IN CANADA Q: How would you describe your sex life? Very sexually active Somewhat sexually active Not very sexually active Not sexually active at all Refused “Very sexually active” responses over the years 1985 1996

of those earning higher incomes—$60,000 or more—describe themselves as sexually active, compared with 65% of respondents overall.