Census counts 131,729 married same-sex couples

Lisa Neff

The U.S. Census Bureau offered new data on the number of married and unmarried same-sex couples sharing households. The 2010 census counted 131,729 married same-sex couples and 514,735 unmarried same-sex couples.

Gay civil rights advocates, with praise for the bureau’s continued effort to get an estimate, said that the number of same-sex couples sharing a home in the United States is probably higher. Some gay couples might have been afraid to identify as such in the census or didn’t understand how to come out on the survey.

But the number of same-sex couples that are actually legally married is probably lower than the census indicates. Some gay couples that feel married probably identified as such in the survey, regardless of their legal status.

“The legal relationship options for same-sex couples in the U.S. are complicated and vary across states,” said Gary Gates, a census consultant with the Williams Institute. “Unlike their different-sex counterparts, same-sex couples cannot marry in most states. Regardless of the legal options in their state, many believe that ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are the most accurate terms available among options on the census form available to describe their relationships.”

Earlier this year, the Census Bureau released preliminary statistics that showed higher numbers of married same-sex couples, 349,377, and unmarried same-sex couples, 552,620.

The revised figures, based on more information, are more consistent with the findings in the bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey and are derived from what the bureau characterized as “another set of estimates to provide a more accurate way to measure same-sex couple households.”

“We understand how important it is for all groups to have accurate statistics that reflect who we are as a nation,” said Census Bureau director Robert Groves. “As scientists, we noticed the inconsistency and developed the revised estimates to provide a more accurate portrait of the number of same-sex couples.”

The new figures reduced the estimated number of couples who reported as same-sex by about 28 percent.

“Better data improves our understanding of the same-sex couples population, and so we applaud the bureau’s effort to improve the accuracy of the data,” Gates said.

The bureau calculated its counts of same-sex couples from two questions in the ACS study and on the decennial 2010 census. One question asked about the relationships of people in the home to the head of a household and the second question asked about the gender of people in those residences. From the answers, the bureau could identify households with same-sex partners.

In 2000, the bureau counted 358,390 unmarried same-sex couples in the United States.

The highest increases in same-sex couples – married and unmarried – were reported in less-populated states, including West Virginia, Montana, the Dakotas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.