Census Bureau releases most detailed data ever on same-sex couples

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Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage, the Census Bureau has released the most detailed data ever on same-sex couples, married and unmarried, in a move welcomed by LGBTQ activists.

“Like with so many other marginalized communities, being able to have this data means so much,” said Beatriz Valenzuela, communications manager for Equity California, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. Accurate data helps government organizations and nonprofit groups better serve the unique needs of each community, she said.

The new data is part of the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Communities Survey, an annual questionnaire that asks respondents about race and ethnicity, where they work, where they live and much more. For the first time, rather than being limited to saying whether they live with a spouse or unmarried partner, respondents were able to say whether they live with a same-sex or opposite-sex spouse, or a same-sex or opposite-sex unmarried partner.

The change came about after an analysis of the 2010 census found that same-sex couples were confused about the question and answering incorrectly, making the data much less reliable. Until 2014, same-sex married couples who identified themselves as such were instead counted as cohabitating partners by the Census Bureau, a change that came more than a decade after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003.

The rewritten question is also part of the once-a-decade 2020 census count.

“We are very excited that this is the first time in the history of the census that they’ve even had a question like this,” Valenzuela said.

The newly released data shows California has the most same-sex couples living together in the country, almost 135,900, of which about 85,100 are married. Florida, the next closest state, has about 78,800 same-sex couples living together. Valenzuela said she wasn’t surprised by California’s high numbers, pointing to San Francisco and Los Angeles as two long-standing centers of LGBTQ culture, the presence of large advocacy groups like hers, and a history of state and local laws that support LGBTQ residents — although California voters banned same-sex marriage in a 2008 proposition that was eventually overturned by the state’s Supreme Court.

California, however, doesn’t have the highest concentration of same-sex couples. In the District of Columbia, 7.1% of all married and unmarried couple households are same-sex, followed by 2.3% of households in Delaware and 2.2% in Oregon. California ranks ninth, with 1.8% of couples living together being same-sex.


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