Some Canadians might view the PMO directive that Justin Trudeau’s wife be always referred to by her hyphenated surname as a gesture to gender equality. Despite her union to Canada’s most powerful man, Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau has challenged a paternalistic social construct by opting to keep her maiden name. Because it was 2015, right?
However, what Canada’s “first couple” is actually doing is giving Quebec’s Civil Code the middle finger — and good on them for it.
Since 1981, it has been illegal for women in Quebec to change their surname when they marry. Since Trudeau and Grégoire married in 2005 in Montreal, she has had no right to share names with her husband — or their children, for that matter.
And so it goes for all mothers in Quebec. Legally changing one’s name in the province is notoriously hard. For many children with absent fathers, a name different from their mother’s can create an uncomfortable distance from their primary caretaker. (This is not trivial matter — single moms head 13 per cent of Canadian families.) Some families choose to hyphenate their child’s name, which may cause confusion when those children grow up and have children with other hyphenated individuals. What will Jean Tremblay-Laurier-Audet-Roy do when he has to name a child with Marie Simard-Bergeron-Belanger-Lavoie?
Quebec’s odd decision to devalue tradition, marriage, and the family followed the passage of the Quebec Charter of Rights in 1976, which claimed to emphasize equality between men and women. It also protected the fundamental freedoms of conscience, religion, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and importantly, freedom of association.
Despite these promises of freedom, the province decided that couples were not allowed to cement their lifelong commitment to each other by associating themselves with a common name.
Quebec isn’t unique in the world — France and Greece both have such “anti-choice” laws — but the more reasonable jurisdictions give women the option of keeping their maiden name if they choose, as well as the alternative of letting the husband adopt his wife’s maiden name. Japan has gone the opposite way, with its Supreme Court recently having ruled that it was constitutional to force couples to have the same surname.
Both extremes on this issue deal a blow to liberty, and particularly the liberty of women. While the Japanese can legally choose whichever spouse’s name, 96 per cent of couples settle for the husband’s, as per tradition. On the other end, an online poll by Global News found that 96 per cent of respondents supported the right of a woman to choose for herself, versus four per cent who believed that “the law protects [women’s] identity.”
Alain Roy, a family law professor at the University of Montreal, told the National Post almost 10 years ago that Quebec’s move seemed like a logical step forward in the early 80s, but seemed backwards for the 21st century: “There is a new generation of women raised in an equal society who don’t feel threatened by men. For them, taking their husband’s name doesn’t mean living under their husband’s shadow.” Clearly, the dominance of cultural paternalism was replaced by government paternalism in this scheme, and no one has been left better off — then, or now.
This issue is personal for me. I have always viewed a common name as a sign of devotion in marriage, and a sign of the bond in matrimony. I married my beautiful bride this summer during what we can only describe as a perfect ceremony, surrounded by friends and family. We said our vows, we exchanged rings, and we wrapped it up with a big ol’ kiss. But no one introduced us as Mr. and Mrs. Kott, as much as both my wife and I would have liked it. They weren’t allowed. Only during our honeymoon outside the country did we feel this new marital connection, courtesy of the affable hotel staff who were blissfully ignorant of Quebec’s senseless laws.
Without being too crass, Quebec’s law is dumb. The issue it sought to address was valid, but the solution missed the mark — and is just as paternalistic as the original problem. This feeling appears to be well represented amongst large swaths of the population, including in the Prime Minister’s own family. Union by a common name is seen as a pillar of marriage, and it’s time the Quebec government realized that women and men should have the right to choose how they demonstrate their commitment to each other.
Tom Kott is the CEO of the Prince Arthur Herald.
Original post HERE. Republished with permission from the National Post