Being Counted: New Census Data on Same-Sex Couples


Last fall, my daughter and I were in a diner seated next to the son and partner of an old friend of mine who I had run into just a few weeks earlier after over 15 years.  When his partner and I started talking, Charlie asked who he was, and I was at a loss for an introduction — mostly because I could not, for the life of me, remember his name.  So I just said, “I went to college with Liam’s other daddy.” Then I waited for Charlie to say something about that concept and hoped it wouldn’t be too embarrassing, but she didn’t even blink. Once again, I was thankful that we had chosen to live in this community where having two daddies like Liam or two mommies like her friend Sophie seems perfectly normal. 

Still, while same-sex couples seem commonplace in our town, according to data that the U.S. Census Bureau has been releasing since June, Maplewood does not, in fact, rank among the top cities or towns in the United States with the most same-sex couples per capita. Though, four New Jersey towns did make the national lists: Jersey City (with 14 same-sex couples per 1,000 households) was on the list of mid-size cities, and Ocean Grove (45), Lambertville (44), and Asbury Park (42) made the list for small cities. 

Nationwide, some of the cities and towns on the lists are expected such as Provincetown, MA (163), New Hope, PA (54), and San Francisco, CA (33); all long-known as gay-friendly communities. Others, such as Salt Lake City, UT (17) and Birmingham, AL (11) seem less obvious. (New York City, one of the birthplaces of the gay rights movement, did not make the list because it is too large to rank per capita – but Manhattan ranked 5th as a county.) 

The households were identified through data from the 2010 census where: “Person 1 describes his or her relationship with another adult of the same sex as either ‘husband/wife’ or ‘unmarried partner.’”  The data was analyzed by the Williams Institute which determined an adjusted number based on: “the likelihood that a small portion of different-sex married couples miscode the sex of a spouse and are incorrectly counted as a same-sex couple and the possibility that some same-sex couples may not be counted in Census tabulations due to concerns about confidentiality or because neither partner was Person 1 in the household.”

The Census first started asking about same-sex partnerships in 1990, and 2000 marked the first time that it allowed: “same-sex couples who described themselves as husbands or wives to be counted as same-sex couples. But those responses were ultimately counted as unmarried partners, because marriage for same-sex couples wasn’t legal in any states then.” 

Many advocates for LGBT rights and marriage equality say that getting a baseline count of same-sex couples will help their efforts. Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for Human Rights Campaign explains:

“This helps us better quantify the economic harm to same-sex couples and how many people are affected by decisions to deny them the rights and benefits of marriage, especially those associated with federal law.” 

Others, however, caution that by only counting same-sex couples, the Census is not providing an accurate estimate of how many LGBT individuals there are in the United States.  Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters argues:

“… from a political perspective, until they agree to count the LBGT community in its entirety, I’m not going to be satisfied. The country is involved in a very important policy debate about extending rights and responsibilities to gay Americans and in the context of that debate, it is important to know how many people we’re talking about.”

Additional national data will be released in November.  What has been released so far suggests that there are 901,997 same-sex couples in the United States which means that there are 7.7 same-sex couples per 1,000 households nationwide.  Of those 60 percent are female couples, 40 percent are male, and 22 percent are raising children. Some of them, thankfully, right here in Maplewood. 

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