A couple is a couple is a couple…of what?

Marriage, civil union or going de facto…a couple is a couple is a couple, be they gay or straight, committed for life or simply trying out someone new. In Québec, it’s all the same.

“With the advent of civil unions, there are now three types of conjugal relationships recognized under Québec law: marriage, de facto union and civil union.”

It’s nice to know Québec gives such a broad spectrum of options when it comes to sharing a house and a bed with a significant other.

But what is the difference between marriage, de facto union and civil union as understood by the Québec Ministère de Justice? In their own words:

“Persons in Québec wishing to publicly commit to sharing a life together may enter into a civil marriage, regardless of whether they are of the same or opposite sex.”

De Facto Union:
“It is now common in our society for two people to live together without being married or joined in a civil union. Their choice of lifestyle is known as a de facto union.”

Civil Union:
“[T]he civil union, a new institution that allows same-sex or opposite-sex couples to make a public commitment to live together and respect the resulting rights and obligations.”

Sex doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in which option one chooses. In any case, the couple can be hetero or homosexual.

Neither is duration a factor, at least not strictly speaking, as “…sharing a life” and “…living together” (terms apparently meant to distinguish marriage from civil and de facto unions) can be somewhat arbitrarily interpreted.

Is it a question of public vs private? Apparently not, if all three options receive legal recognition, rights and protection regarding property, promises and prole.

Confused? Never fear, the difference isn’t clear for the Québec Chamber of Notaries, the civil body authorized to contract civil unions, either. In an attempt to justify the necessity for two options apparently of the same nature, civil marriage and civil union, we read

“…The legal framework for civil union is based on that of marriage. Individuals who are joined in a civil union have the same rights and obligations as those who are joined in marriage…As in the case of married spouses, individuals who are joined in a civil union owe each other mutual respect, fidelity, support and assistance.”

One might think that even though the difference might be blurry between civil marriage and civil union, it ought to be much clearer when dealing with de facto unions. Not quite so. While the authorization of a notary or a minister of justice is not absolutely required to form a de facto union, the Québec Ministry of Justice highly recommends it.

“Verbal agreements can be disputed. It is a good idea to set down, in writing, your respective positions in a contract for living together, which you are advised to sign before a notary or a lawyer, once you have found out about your rights and obligations.”

Here the three conjugal options take on a bit more form. If they seemed to mesh together in how they’re formed (at least as far as sex, intention and legal procedure go), how they’re broken seems to set them apart.

The guidelines marked out by the Ministry of Justice for dissolving a porno marriage are relatively simple: file for divorce and it is granted within a year.

Civil unions have the advantage of being dissolved faster and easier.

But following in the line of this “major legal innovation” of conjugal breakdown, de facto unions are definitely avante garde.

Apparently, the criteria for making the union of choice are the criteria of convenience for breaking the union of choice; and, according to the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Notaries, the less hassle for them means the best option for me when it comes to saying “I do” or “adieu.”

Love, commitment and fidelity are no longer the standards for, nor the sustaining pillars behind, contracting a conjugal union. But isn’t there an objective difference between a lifelong commitment and a temporary agreement? Between a contract of persons and a “contract for living together”? Should not the government give preference and special recognition to that which merits it? Is it not in their best interests to foster the stability of their families rather than facilitate their separation?

A couple may be a couple may be a couple, but, when all things are equal, does anything have value?