Two Treatments of Pluralism: Canada and the United States

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Notre Dame Law School Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 11-09 (February 22, 2011)


Canada and the United States, while similar in many ways, diverge substantially when it comes to family law. Canada’s marriage and divorce law is national, while the U.S. family law is largely governed by state law. This makes rules in the United States heterogeneous compared to those in Canada, and thus easier to tailor to the preferences of people living in the various states.

A more important difference between the two treatments is that Canada supports a diversity of relationships positively (through providing for financial assistance and legal recognition) and through its public policy. The United States, while tolerating most family forms, formally recognizes only marriage and adoption, leaving adults in heterodox relationships to private support or contract.

In both these North American jurisdictions, people live in a variety of family forms. While most heterosexual couples marry, some do not. This paper considers the effects of the differing policies on young people in two minority groups, the Québécois in Canada and African Americans in the United States, both of which groups de facto eschew formal marriage. Both are relatively impoverished groups, and both historically have suffered discrimination and been underrepresented among the national power elites. Yet despite these surface differences, the two groups diverge in terms of the mental health of their youth, and quite notably in terms of the rate at which they commit suicide. This paper will attempt to portray these similarities and differences as well as propose several reasons for the differing results.