Same Sex Marriage Counts

Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA who is advising the US Census Bureau estimated that 100,000 same sex marriage licenses were issued in the four states where same sex marriage was legal during 2008. According to the Census Bureau's 2008 survey data, released on September 21st, 149,956 or more than a quarter of an estimated 564,743 same sex couples reported being in marriage relationships. This is a difference of approximately 50% over the estimated number of licenses issued. Analysts suggest the disparities are a reflection of same-sex couples in committed relationships who would get married if they could in their states. Only Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and Connecticut issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

In 2007, 341,000 out of 753,618 total same-sex couples reported being in a marriage relationship in the US, even though only about 11,000 marriage licenses had been issued. The numbers were even higher for 2005 and 2006; About 390,000 each year reported being in a same-sex marriage out of nearly 780,000 reported gay couples. Martin O'Connell, the Census Bureau of Chief of the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch, attributed the higher numbers in previous years to a confusing survey layout and formatting errors that he claims are now resolved. Until August of this year, the Census Bureau was prohibited from releasing any of the raw data it had collected concerning same sex couples.

Same sex couples have historically been unrecognized by any official entity. Self-reporting has been the sole method of counting this demographic and the decision to self-report has not been an easy one for many gay and lesbians living in America. The gay and lesbian community has been subject to significant discrimination and threats of personal and professional harm because of sexual orientation. The US Department of Justice reported that 1,266 crimes resulting from sexual orientation bias occurred in 2007. Laws against discrimination based upon sexual orientation are not uniform around the country. There is very little data tracking discrimination in employment and housing due to sexual orientation. Personal family and relationship losses are purely anecdotal. This precarious status has been resolved in a population historically unwilling or unable to risk identifying themselves as a same sex couple in personal, professional or official settings. As the visibility of same sex couples increase, these risks are likely to diminish. There is safety in numbers, as the saying goes and in this respect, establishing a dependable count is important.

Will the 2010 census establish an accurate baseline count? Same sex marriage is legally available in some states from which a count of marriage licenses provides a verifiable starting point for counting same sex marriages in the US. On the other hand, same sex unions of any description are expressly prohibited in more than 30 US states. In parts of 9 other states, some form of Civil Union or Domestic Partnerships are recognized. The federal government does not recognize same sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partners. After a review of the Census Bureau's 2010 Questionnaire is not clear where a dependable count can be established. For the question "How is this person related to Person1?", Unmarried same sex couples may choose "Husband or wife", "Housemate or roommate", "Unmarried Partner" 'or "Other nonrelative" to describe how they are related to " Person 1 ". "Same sex partner" is not an option. April 1, 2010 is exclusively Census Day in the US. Unless unmarried same sex couples are directed to check the "unmarried partner" box, the count for 2010 will also likely be different from the number of legally married same sex couples.

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Delena Wilkerson

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