One in five of the nation’s 646,000 same-sex couples consider themselves married, according to census figures released Tuesday showing a sharp rise in the number of gay people willing to identify themselves as couples.
Same-sex couples make up just 1 percent of the 64 million couples in the country, including married couples and unmarried partners, and barely half a percentage point of all households. But the number of same-sex couples increased 80 percent over those counted in the 2000 Census.
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The figures represent couples who identified themselves to the census as spouses or unmarried partners living together. A post-census study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that 10 percent of same-sex couples did not reveal their relationship, even though the census is confidential. “The bulk of the increase is people being more willing to identify themselves,” said Gary Gates, a Williams Institute demographer who analyzes trends in the gay community. “There might be some increased partnering as the stigma declines, but that can’t explain it all.”
The count of about 131,000 married same-sex couples is almost certainly higher now, as New York state this year became the seventh, and largest, jurisdiction in the United States to legalize gay marriage. It had been legal in the District less than a month before the census was taken in April 2010 amid a campaign by gay activist groups to encourage couples to identify their relationships on the census forms.
The census statistics show same-sex couples in every state, including married couples living in states where their unions are not legally recognized. The District has the nation’s highest rate of same-sex couples, almost 2 percent of all households, though as a city its statistics are not really comparable to those of the states. About 750 of the city’s 4,800 same-sex couples are married.
About 12,500 same-sex couples live in Maryland, where a same-sex marriage bill was voted down this year. More than 14,000 live in Virginia, which does not recognize the legality of gay marriages performed out of state. Each state has about 2,500 married same-sex couples.
Reaction to the numbers
Proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage found solace in the census figures.
“It really shows us tremendous growth in the number of same-sex couples willing to stand up and be counted, and I hope it translates into governments being responsive to their needs,” said Brian Moulton, chief legislative counselor for the Human Rights Campaign’s marriage-equality advocacy efforts. “It’s a community that clearly exists all over the country and is not willing to be largely ignored by the folks who are supposed to represent them.”
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said the census figures show that the number of gay couples seeking to get married is small. He pointed to a census analysis that 42 percent of same-sex couples living in states where gay marriage is legal actually wed. In comparison, there are 54 million heterosexual married couples and 8 million couples who live together but are not wed.