California,Vermont No. 1 with same-sex partners

The Associated Press
Wednesday August 08, 2001

Nearly a million gays and lesbians identified themselves as same-sex couples in the latest census, which for the first time gives an authoritative record of homosexuals in America. 

Advocates hope politicians will note that gay and lesbian couples are a part of nearly every county in every state, and thus pay more attention to their calls for domestic partner rights and benefits such as marriage, health care and inheritance rights. 

But the nation’s total gay population is much larger, since the 2000 census provided an opportunity for single gays and lesbians to identify their sexual orientation, and didn’t count couples living separately. That has some homosexuals fearing a resulting backlash. 

“Why would politicians waste an hour on this if there are only 6,500 (male) couples in San Francisco, the queer capital of the world?” said Peter Altman, 42, who’s been with his partner 11 years. 

Census officials say the numbers are more accurate than those gathered in 1990, when the bureau assumed that all people who checked “spouse” or “married” to someone of the same sex had made a mistake. Such people were categorized either as heterosexual couples, or other relationships such as roommates or relatives. Still, the 2000 numbers cannot be used to estimate the nation’s entire gay population, said Martin O’Connell, chief of the fertility and family statistics branch of the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“It’s hard to get a complete picture by only describing the living relationships of people living together,” O’Connell said. 

To date, the Census Bureau has reported that 479,107 same-sex couples identified themselves as sharing a household in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This number will rise when data from all 50 states is released. The missing states are New Jersey, Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Arkansas. 

According to the latest batch of census statistics released Wednesday, California and Vermont lead the nation with the highest percentage of gay and lesbian couples, while San Francisco has nearly twice as many same-sex partners as any other county. There are 92,138 same-sex couples in California, 8,902 of which are in San Francisco. In Vermont, 1,933 same-sex couples responded to the census. Gay and lesbian couples make up nearly 1 percent of total households reported in both California and Vermont. 

“We’re not talking about some sort of intangible concept of a gay family,” said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacy group in Washington D.C. “We’re talking about real people who live in a real assemblyperson’s district.” 

Some gays who responded to the census felt that the chance to be counted was worth overcoming fears about disclosing their sexual orientation to the government.  

“It’s very easy to get paranoid and think that the FBI is making up a list and some day when the ‘far-rights’ ascend to power, they’re going to have the list,” Altman said. What’s the alternative – not to have it on the census and then be invisible? We’re damned if we do or damned if we don’t.” 

The 1990 census counted 121,346 same-sex couples. These were people who checked “domestic partner” with someone of the same gender. 

But O’Connell warns against comparing those numbers because of the way the forms were edited a decade ago. For example, two men identifying themselves as married could have been switched in 1990 to male and female and counted as a heterosexual couple, or listed as relatives or roommates instead of domestic partners. 

The 2000 data did not reassign partners. Instead, it put everyone into the domestic partner category, and then classified the couples as homosexual or heterosexual. 

There are 3,850,524 heterosexual unmarried couples nationwide, with 591,378, or 5.1 percent, in California. Alaska ranks first with 6.9 percent and Vermont is second with 6.7 percent. 

The same-sex numbers, while most likely undercounted, still show a lot about where the country’s gay and lesbian sex couples live and who they are, said Gary Gates, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank. 

The data shows there are more lesbian couples living in rural areas, while gay male couples tend to be in urban areas. California, Nevada, Florida and New York rank at the top for male couples, while Vermont, New Mexico, Oregon and Massachusetts have the most lesbian couples, in that order. 

“Part of that might have to do with more of us having children than the guys. They still haven’t caught up with us there,” said Bobbi Cote-Whitacre, 53, of Grand Isle, Vt., who has been with her partner 34 years. “We tend to look for places that are safer or more of a rural country spot.” 


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