Hooray for sexless marriage

Conservatives and radicals meet in strange places

Toss aside the Cosmo magazine quiz, because the Ontario government’s official co-resident questionnaire offers a fun alternative. How do you know if you’re a couple or just very close roommates? Grab a pencil!

Do you and your co-resident share meals or do you have separate meal arrangements? Do you and your co-resident ever attend social or family events with each other’s friends or relatives? Have you and your co-resident ever lived together previously at a different address?

If you answered yes to these and 28 other questions, you may very well be in a government-sanctioned relationship for the purpose of social service programs like Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

The questionnaire contains one omission that would never get past the Cosmo editors: Sex.

Ontario does not ask anything like, “How often do you and your co-resident have sex?” Your welfare benefits hang on whether you share the cost of a pizza – but not on whether you’re sharing a bed.

Somewhere around the time governments and institutions realized gay and lesbian relationships could not be ignored – that under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms they must be recognized and therefore regulated – sex was deleted from the definition of conjugal relationship.

And the more conservative the organization, the more vehement the desire to eliminate sex from the modern definition of a couple.

Take, for example, the rightwing protests over the federal government’s new legislation recognizing same-sex couples as common-law partners. Jerry Falwell complains, “Bill C-23 discriminates against all forms of co-dependent relationships that are not homosexual. All other couples… will be denied benefits under Bill C-23, even if they are economically dependent.”

Those who believe that love between partners is based on eros – the lusty kind of love – are wrong. It’s based on agape – fatherly or brotherly love. Good advice matters more than cuddles. Money concerns more than sexual ones.

There’s a beautiful circuitous logic here. The present version of Bill C-23 starts, “the amendments made by this act do not affect the meaning of the word ‘marriage,’ that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.” But in the next breath, the bill describes same-sex common-law relationships this way: “relationships between two persons who are cohabitating in a conjugal relationship, having so cohabited for a period of one year.” The bill does not define “conjugal.” My Oxford dictionary does: “of marriage or the relation between husband and wife.”

Gay and lesbian couples aren’t married couples, the bill says, but they are defined as having lived together as a married couple. And what is it to live together as a married couple? Apparently it’s about sharing household chores.


Admittedly, conservatives will use any excuse to insult homo sex. But the extraordinary thing about this tactic is that it so resembles the politics of gay liberation. Jerry Falwell’s proclaimed view on what defines a couple is not far from that of a homo activist.

Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra, states in its mission statement: “We… seek a world where sex is valued as a human trait, no more no less than any other.”

That means freeing sexual activity from the confines of family law and mores. Sex is important, but it is a co-factor in familial relationships, not a defining and supreme factor. Sex may be absent from a household, or it may overflow outside it.

This notion is the largest gift the gay community can offer the straight community, and it’s the one which has been adopted by critics of Bill C-23 (who no doubt now want to increase the difference between hetero marriage and its poor common-law cousin).

It’s certainly a more revolutionary position than allowing gay couples to marry. It opens the door to polyamorous relationships – what if you cook with both your co-residents? – and couples who are brother and sister, niece and aunt.

And though the Ontario government is not asking the aunt and niece whether they’re having sex with each other (or with others), who’s to say?

Paul Gallant is Features Editor for Xtra.

Paul Gallant

Paul Gallant is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has appeared in The WalrusThe Globe and Mail, the Toronto StarTHIS magazine, CBC.ca, Readersdigest.ca and many other publications. His debut novel, Still More Stubborn Stars, was published by Acorn Press. He is the editor of Pink Ticket Travel and a former managing editor of Xtra. Photo by Tishan Baldeo.

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