American Sociological Association

Sex and the Province: A Short History of Quebec

June 15, 2017

by Poulami Roychowdhury and Eran Shor, McGill University

Quebec has a long and multifaceted history of intimate relationships and sexuality. Over the past hundred years, the city has witnessed massive changes in the institution of marriage, as well as in the social acceptability and legal rights of gays and lesbians.

The province was long dominated by the Catholic Church, which exercised immense control over social and family life. These days, however, Quebec residents are calling the very foundations of marriage under question. A 2006 study by sociologists Don Kerr, Melissa Moyser and Roderic Beaujot showed that Quebec’s rates of divorce, cohabitation outside of marriage, and childbirth out of wedlock were substantially higher than those of all other Canadian provinces. Similar to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Quebec has very low marriage rates and very high levels of cohabitation. In fact, the concentration of unwed couples in Quebec today is among the highest in the world. Thirty-seven percent of people living together as couples in the province are not officially married. Cohabitation is so popular that the term conjoint/conjointe (masculine and feminine terms referring to either a cohabiting or married partner) is frequently applied to all partners irrespective of marital status.

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