D.C. Leads in Gay, Mass. in Lesbian, Households

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 2, 2010

The 2010 Census may not have asked about gay and lesbian families, at least not directly, but there are other surveys that gather numbers and statistics relevant to GLBT households. Analysis of the 2009 American Community Survey shows that Washington, D.C., leads the nation in the number of male same-sex households; Massachusetts, the first state to legalize marriage equality, leads with the most lesbian households.

That bit of demographic information was just the tip of the iceberg. using the survey, researchers gleaned a trove of compelling--and sure to be controversial--data regarding the nation's families, straight and gay, married and unmarried alike.

The Washington Times reported on Nov. 1 that the National Center for Marriage & Family Research's latest Family Profiles contained American Community Survey-based conclusions about which families had the highest rate of home ownership, which couples made the most money, and where gays and lesbians most like to live.

There are well over half a million same-sex homes in the United States (about 580,000), the survey indicated, and just over a quarter of those are headed by married couples. Marriage equality is currently legal in only five states, and where same-sex couples are allowed to wed, lesbians lead the way. Nationally, there are 85,847 married lesbian couples, versus 66,274 married gay couples.

Washington, D.C. ranks as the nation's top city in terms of homes headed by gay couples--26% of all unmarried couples in the city were gay men, with lesbians making up 4% of the same demographic. (Data for 2010 will indicate how many of those couples have chosen to wed following Washington, D.C.'s legalization of marriage equality in December of last year.)

But Massachusetts ranked first in terms of households headed by female same-sex couples, the survey showed: though gays and lesbians may marry in Massachusetts, lesbians comprised 8% of the state's unmarried couples, with males making up 6% of the state's unmarried couples. Massachusetts was only one of several states where same-sex couples are more numerous; other states with high numbers of gay and lesbian families were Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Utah. Florida and Virginia had high numbers of gay couples; Vermont and New Mexico were among favorite states for lesbian couples.

Gay couples drew the highest combined household incomes, the survey indicated, and unmarried heterosexual couples the lowest. Those numbers roughly corresponded with level of education: gay couples led in terms of both partners being college educated, and heterosexual couples ranked last in those terms. Same-sex families and married heterosexuals had about the same rate of home ownership (more than two-thirds), but fewer than half of unmarried straight couples owned their homes.

Among heterosexual couples, parenthood was nearly equal between married couples (42%) and unmarried couples (39%). Same-sex households trailed, with 17% of same-sex couples having kids. Of those households, lesbian couples were twice as likely (22%) as gay couples (11%) to have kids.

Data from the U.S. Census, when it becomes available, will shed more light on same-sex households, but only after it is subjected to more analysis than will be needed to determine crucial data about heterosexual households. The Census did not ask families whether they were gay or lesbian, but by cross-referencing other responses, researchers can determine how many gay and lesbian families there are. Departments and agencies of the federal government are prevented from recognizing gay and lesbian families under the provisions of an anti-gay federal law, the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act from 1996.

There is some fuzziness expected with the Census numbers. One study indicates that the Census data may underreport gay and lesbian families by 10% thanks to the way the questions were put to respondents.

Data from the 2000 Census indicates that ten years ago there were nearly 600,000 same-sex households in the United States. But that data still undercounts gay and lesbian families, the study found, because many respondents declined to self-identify as gay or lesbian cohabitants out of concern around confidentiality or due to other personal preferences.

Location also matters in terms of how respondents answered the Census. "It's really difficult for same-sex couples in the current legal climate to know how to fill out these forms," said Dr. Gary J. Gates, an analyst with UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Public Policy. "If you are married and live in a state that recognizes your marriage, nine out of 10 use 'husband' or 'wife,' " Gates said. "But if you live someplace that does not recognize your marriage, then only six out of 10 do." Gates estimated that more than 14% of same-sex families would not be represented in the 2010 Census data.

Gates noted that "There's huge power in visibility," socially and politically, but the legal climate throws up barriers for same-sex families, who are "just not on the same playing field in filling out something as simple as a federal form."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.