11/08/2012 12:08 EST | Updated 01/08/2013 05:12 EST

Swell Of Same-Sex Families Ushering In 'The New Normal'

For many, it was a dream that seemed hardly possible even a decade ago.

"I never imagined in my lifetime I would be able to marry the man I loved and have a family. And I have that," said Raphael Alyman, a Montreal father of two.

Today, same sex families are among the fastest growing demographics in the country.

While fewer opposite sex couples are getting married and having children, a gradual slip that's been taking place for more two decades, the numbers are soaring for gay and lesbian couples who tie the knot and start families.

It's only been seven years since same-sex marriage was legalized across Canada.

Last year, more than 21,015 same-sex couples reported they were legally married, according to the Census. That's a 181 per cent increase over 2006. The total number of same-sex families grew by more than 42 per cent.

By comparison, the number of opposite sex couples who reported they were in a married relationship in 2011 grew by just under three per cent. Same-sex couples made up 0.8 per cent of all couples in the 2011 figures.

Alyman and Alain Audet have been together almost 14 years.

They adopted their first child in 2003 when he was nine months old. When the law changed in Quebec in 2004, they got married. Two years later, they adopted their daughter.

"We wanted our kids to feel that their parents were the same as, and recognized the same way, other kids' parents were recognized," Alyman said.

"We wanted them to feel like, 'My family is as legitimate as yours.' That's why we got married – for the kids."

They were the first gay couple in Quebec to sign both names to their child's birth certificate, even though the actual bureaucracy hadn't caught up yet.

"I had to print [the form] and I crossed out mother and wrote father and I gave it to the woman and she was like, 'I can't wait to see in 20 years what happens to those kids,'" Audet said.

The paperwork came back identifying them both as mothers.

Discrimination still an issue

While there's no doubt in either of their minds that their children will grow up as strong, well-rounded individuals, they admit that watching the judgment of some strangers inflicted on their son and daughter is heartbreaking.

Audet and Alyman said they've started to explain to their son how important it was for them to have the right to adopt and how difficult a struggle it was for many couples even a decade ago.

They're also preparing him for name-calling and slurs they expect may be part of his reality down the road.

"At some point, someone will tell you, 'Oh your parents are just a bunch of faggots,'" Audet explained.

"You just have to correct them. 'No, actually, they're not a bunch of faggots. They're homosexuals and if you have any questions about it, I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.'"

The new "normal"

Their family may not yet represent "the norm," but, increasingly, neither do those around them.

Most of their son's friends' families are one-parent households, another new normal emerging from the stats.

Single parent families increased by 8 per cent from 2006 according to the census. More of those parents were fathers, but the majority, eight out of 10 single parents, were still mothers.

The conversation around the differences between the Audet-Alyman household and others revolves primarily around adoption, not the status of the parents.

"We talk to them about adoption any chance we can so that they understand, they're familiar with what's going on, they can explain their story," Alyman said.

"Talking about being a same-sex family, not as much because it's just their reality and very little comes up from them about the fact that we're two dads."

"They don't see it as being different," added Audet. "For them, it's their family."

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