With one map, the phenomenal researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School showed me the importance of marriage equality to the African American community. Greater familial and economic security for families come with marriage. Not only would both help all same-sex couples who choose to marry, they also would be of great help to black communities struggling to maintain or regain both.
“More than 70 percent of African American households are led by single mothers, and unmarried heterosexual couples raising children have the highest poverty rates in this country,” Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, told me. “The concept of having two mothers or two fathers in the household, raising children together and being legally married, builds a stronger economic foundation and family structure that should be lauded in the African American community.”
Making this connection between marriage equality and its potential impact on African Americans was not the intent of the Williams Institute, a California-based think tank on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. Theirs was a straightforward survey of African American gay and lesbian singles and same-sex couples. But I made the connection between blacks and same-sex marriage as Angeliki Kastanis and Gary Gates presented their data during a panel I moderated on the Hill last month.
As the map above shows, same-sex couples live pretty much everywhere. Concentrations in urban areas come as no surprise. When you factor in children, things get a little more interesting.
We know from the 2011 report “All Children Matter” that there are 12 states where more than one in four same-sex couples are raising children. The surprise in Table 1 (below) is the states themselves. Half of the states — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and South Carolina — are in the South. That’s one more than half of the states in the old Confederacy, with Mississippi being No. 1. Mississippi!
“[P]laces like New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have the highest concentration of same-sex couples raising children, primarily because those areas have the highest concentration of same-sex couples (that is, both with and without children),” the study noted. “However, this doesn’t mean that same-sex couples in these areas are more likely to be raising children than those in other areas. In fact, California and New York don’t even make the list of the top 10 states where same-sex couples are most likely to be raising children.”
“All Children Matter,” which used tons of data crunched by the Williams Institute and was written by the Center for American Progress, the Family Equality Council and the Movement Advancement Project, has been a favorite of mine since its release in 2011, mostly because its focus on the income inequality and economic insecurity faced by LGBT Americans and their families dispelled the popular myth that same-sex couples and gays are generally wealthy.
One data point the report used from a 2009 Williams Institute study revealed that “[C]hildren being raised by same-sex couples are twice as likely to live in poverty when compared to children living in households with heterosexual married parents.” That remained true in an updated LGBT poverty study released last year. “Almost one in four children living with a male couple (23.4%) and one in five children living with a female couple (19.2%) are poor, compared with 12.1% of children living with married parents,” the report notes.
What also remained true is this: African American same-sex couples are more likely to be raising children than their white counterparts.
According to a special tabulation of 2012 data by Gates of the Williams Institute, nearly half of black lesbian couples (48 percent) and a fifth of black gay male couples (20 percent) are raising children. Kastanis and Gates presented another slice of data during the Hill panel, showing that 43 percent of African American lesbians and gays (single and coupled) are raising children. A third (34 percent) of same-sex couples with a black householder are raising children.
Kastanis and Gates report that these couples “report median incomes $15,000 lower than comparable African American different-sex couples ($47,300 vs. $63,020).” There were higher rates of unemployment for LGBT blacks (15 percent) than for their straight brothers and sisters (12 percent). Also, black LGBT couples “are less likely than their different-sex counterparts to have health insurance for both partners (63 percent vs. 79 percent).” The authors also note that African American female same-sex couples, who make up 58 percent of all black same-sex couples, report a “household median income $20,000 less than black male same-sex couples ($51,000 vs. $72,000).”
Even though those salaries might seem pretty good, data show that children raised in black same-sex households are more likely to be poor.
According to a chart on page 9 of “All Children Matter,” 32 percent of children of black male same-sex couples and 28 percent of the children of black lesbian couples were living in poverty. Those numbers were based on data from 2000. The revised percentages in the updated LGBT poverty study using 2011 data (page 16) is jaw-dropping. The percentage of children living in poverty in same-sex households went down for everyone, except African Americans. Theirs went up.
More than half (52 percent) of children of black male same-sex couples are living in poverty. According to the Williams Institute, they have “the highest poverty rate … of any children in any household.” And 38 percent of the children of black lesbian couples are living in poverty. That’s double the overall rate (19 percent) for female same-sex households. Fifteen percent of married heterosexual African American couples are raising children in poverty and 11 percent of straight white married couples are doing the same.
Now it’s time to show you the chart that is the foundation of this post. As you saw on the map at the top, same-sex couples in general are pretty much spread out over most of the country. The map below shows something altogether different.
This map shows where all same-sex couples with an African American householder live. What made it such a standout to me was what Gates said after he gave the official description of the map. “Basically,” he said, “you’re looking at where black people live,” he said.
The next chart shows the top 10 states and counties where LGBT African Americans and same-sex couples with an African American householder live.
The next map shows where same-sex couples with an African American householder raising children live.
Forgive the roughness of the following map, but it’s helpful to see most of what I’ve just explained overlapped one map. The 12 states where more than 25 percent of all same-sex couples are raising children are in orange. The states with the pink X or outlined in pink are the top 10 states with highest percent of LGBT African Americans among all adults. The states with the green circle or outlined in green are the top 10 states with the highest number of same-sex households with at least one black householder. Washington, D.C., is number one in the latter two categories.
Same-sex marriage is outlawed by statute or constitutional amendment in six of the 10 states with the highest percentage of LGBT African Americans. But several federal courts have declared state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Of course, these rulings are being appealed. But if the rulings are upheld by federal appeals courts and apply to all the states in their respective circuits, marriage equality could be legal in four of the above six states, as well as in seven of the 12 states where more than 25 percent of the same-sex couples are raising children.
The Supreme Court punted last June on the question of whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage when it overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and allowed marriage equality in California. The case percolating in the appeals courts means the justices won’t be able to avoid the question for much longer. The legal limbo LGBT couples find themselves in Utah and Michigan, where they were able to marry in a narrow window of time before federal court rulings were stayed, demand a definitive resolution.
In a January speech marking the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made an assertion that I found hard to quibble with. “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82%,” he said. “But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.”
Anyone — from a U.S. senator to a black preacher clinging to outdated notions of what marriage means today — who wants to do something about poverty, strengthen the institution of marriage or save the black family would be smart to support marriage equality.
“Black gay and lesbian couples who choose to marry will definitely strengthen the family structure within African-American communities,” Lettman-Hicks said. “Hav[ing] all the rights and privileges afforded to those who choose to be married … gives couples the tools and the security to build a life together and to protect their families.”
If African American same-sex couples could legally marry in the states where they live, imagine the lift those families would receive. Tax deductions and credits could help with child care and education. Social Security benefits would automatically flow to survivors. Obstacles to cross-parent adoption would fall away, ending the awful reality that many parents are legal strangers to their own children. That kind of familial and economic security would help and nurture African American families where it’s needed most.
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