U.S. Census 2010 data on same-sex couples has begun trickling out and, if the first two states are any measure, there are dramatically more same-sex couples in the United States than previously counted.
The U.S. Census Bureau is releasing 2010 data state-by-state on a rolling basis. It released numbers for the first two states—Alabama and Hawaii—June 16. The Williams Institute, a nationally respected public policy research organization focused on issues related to sexual orientation, released “snapshots” of the data related to same-sex couple households.
The data show that, in 2010 in Alabama, the Census Bureau found 11,259 households headed by same-sex couples. That number is 3,150 (or 39 percent) more than in 2000, when the Census Bureau found 2,389 same-sex unmarried partner households in Alabama.
In 2010 in Hawaii, the Census Bureau found 4,248 households headed by a same-sex couple—1,859 (or 78 percent) more than the 8,109 same-sex unmarried partner households reported in 2000.
The data released thus far this year by the Census Bureau reports all same-sex couple households, regardless of whether they are legally married, in a legally recognized civil union or domestic partnership, or in a relationship that has not been formalized by law.
Gary Gates, the lead author of the “snapshot” analysis, said the Census Bureau is expected to provide a breakdown of the data of just same-sex married couples later this year. But he said that breakdown will not be an accurate reflection of how many same-sex couples have marriage licenses because some same-sex couples identify themselves as being “husband or wife” even if they do not have a marriage license.
Gates said the dramatic contrast between the 2000 and 2010 Census numbers in Alabama and Hawaii is a “fair comparison” and, in fact, might even been an understated one. That’s because, compared to 2000, the Census Bureau, says Gates, has done better job “correcting” the 2010 numbers for the likelihood that some heterosexual married people accidentally check off the wrong gender for their spouse.
But he said comparing 2000 and 2010 Census data concerning same-sex couples is, nevertheless, riddled with caveats.
The Census Bureau has, over the years, repeatedly changed how it processes data concerning same-sex couples. Up until 2000, the Bureau counted any same-sex couple who identified themselves as married as a mistake—and re-counted them as heterosexual married couples. And, technically speaking, no jurisdiction was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until Massachusetts did in 2004.
But there have been political changes, too. Although most states still ban legal recognition of marriages between same-sex couples, five states and the District of Columbia have started issuing marriage licenses to such couples. A dozen states—including, starting this month, Illinois—provide legal recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships. And, polls have indicated the general public’s hostility toward allowing gays to marry is declining.
Gates credits the Census Bureau with “slowing improving” the process by which it counts same-sex couples.
“In the last two years,” he said, “they have devoted some serious resources to trying to fix this. They’ve started the process of testing different core questions about households and marital status. We won’t see the results for several years, but it’s a really big deal.”
Only 145,130 same-sex unmarried partners were identified in the 1990 Census, when the bureau first began separating out data of same-sex couples from heterosexual couples who identified as unmarried partners. In 2000, 594,391 same-sex couples identified as unmarried partners. A national count for 2010 will be released by the Census Bureau later this year.
It was just months into President Obama’s first year in office, June 2009, when the administration indicated it would have the Census provide a separate count of same-sex married couples.
The 2010 Census was the first time in the nation’s history when a same-sex couple could actually hold a marriage license and thus accurately identify themselves as “married” on the decennial survey. Prior to 2004, when Massachusetts began issuing licenses to same-sex couples, no states issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Now, five states—Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut—and the District of Columbia do. All six jurisdictions had legalized same-sex marriage before the 2010 Census surveys went out.
An additional 18,000 same-sex couples hold valid marriage licenses in California. They were obtained in 2008 before a statewide ballot initiative (Proposition 8 amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. That amendment is still under challenge in federal court.
The decision to start counting same-sex married couples did not necessitate any change in the 2010 Census form, but simply called for taking a separate notice of couples in which Person 1 identified a same-sex Person 2 on his or her Census form as either a “husband or wife” or an “unmarried partner.”
Census data about any minority group can have important impact. The data can be used to justify programs, illustrate the need for legislation, and give a sense of size for a particular voting bloc. They also counter a general tendency toward simply ignoring the existence of same-sex couples and families.
The 2010 data for Alabama shows that 60 percent of the same-sex couples are female; 40 percent male. Most (73 percent) are not raising children; 27 percent are. Female couples appear to be concentrated on the western border of the state, while the male couples are concentrated on the east. Statewide, there are almost six same-sex couples for every 1,000 households in the state. Birmingham hosts the largest concentration, with about 1o same-sex couples per 1,000 households.
The 2010 data for Hawaii shows that 53 percent of the same-sex couples are female; 47 percent male. Most (77 percent) are not raising children; 23 percent are. Statewide, there are more than nine same-sex couples for every 1,000 households in the state. Hawaiian Paradise Park, a small town on the Big Island’s eastern coast, hosts the largest concentration, with more than 17 same-sex couples per 1,000 households.