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87% Increase in Same-Sex Nevada Households Since 2000

by Shaun Knittel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday August 11, 2011

The number of same-sex couples sharing a home in Nevada nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, revealing an up-and-coming constituency in a state that has banned marriage for gays and lesbians, but approved domestic partnerships.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data the Williams Institute released last week, lesbian couples inhabited nearly 4,600 homes in the Silver State in 2010. Gay male couples headed 4,724 households. These statistics constitute an 87 percent increase in the number of same-sex households over the last decade.

The data also shows that nearly a quarter of those couples are raising children, although lesbian couples were more likely than the male couples to have children at home.

Nevada had fewer than 5,000 households headed by same-sex couples in 2000. The state currently boasts more than 9,000 gay and lesbian households.

Nevada has more than one million households so some would say that 9,000 same-sex households remains a hardly visible minority. Politically, however, there remains a shift in the state's increasingly gay-friendly stance. Less than a decade ago, 67 percent of Nevadans defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

"Folks who are LGBT may not have been excited (before) to move here from California, where they enjoy a lot of legal protections," said Michael Ginsburg, southern Nevada director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "Now that Nevada is catching up, that may not be a factor for people anymore."

One of the criticisms of the Williams Institute's census report is that, in fact, the new number of same-sex couples does not reflect actual growth. Rather, they indicate a willingness for gay couples to come out to the government during a more liberal political climate.

In truth, the census doesn't capture Nevada's overall gay population because it doesn't allow single people to identify their sexual orientation.

Candice Nichols, executive director for The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, said the state is home to many more same-sex couples than the 2010 census numbers indicate. "Are there even more? Absolutely," answered Nichols. "I don't think it's a clear cut view of how many same-sex households there actually are in Nevada. People don't identify for various reasons, it just depends on their own comfort levels."

The 2010 census questionnaire asked homeowners to identify the people sharing their roof under very specific and familiar categories-child, parent or spouse. Couples who live together but are not married may only self-identify themselves as an unmarried partner. The survey does not allow unmarried participants to identify themselves as transgender, domestic partners and other specific terms.

In a sense, Ginsburg said one could look at those numbers and find there are no gay people in the state.

Not surprisingly, the Las Vegas Valley, where the majority of the state's 2.6 million people reside, is home to the majority of Nevada's same-sex households with 7,170 of the state's 9,321 gay couples who share a home.

In the last decade, Nevada has become noticeably gay-friendlier, passing local and state laws recognizing the rights of domestic partners. State lawmakers earlier this year passed a series of measures that added gender identity and expression to Nevada's anti-discrimination law and banned housing or employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Casino executives-the state's economic cash cow-backed these measures.

Overturning the state's 2002 ban on marriage for same-sex couples could take years because of Nevada's complicated constitutional amendment process. "It's going to be much easier for the state to say, 'wait a minute, the federal government finds this unconstitutional'," than for marriage equality proponents in Nevada to pass same-sex marriage legislation themselves," said Nichols.

Still, with the number of same-sex households nearly doubling over the past decade, no one is denying that the gay majority in Nevada is growing. And with it increased political influence-even if it is on a small scale.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.