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New study offers first demographic picture of same-sex spouses

November 3, 2009 O&AN Staff Reports   Comments

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - For the first time, the Census Bureau has released data in which same-sex couples who refer to one another as "husband" or "wife" are differentiated from those who refer to one another as "unmarried partners." 

A report issued today by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA Law analyzes the newly released data from the 2008 American Community Survey (ACS).

This study is the first to examine the difference and similarities among same-sex couples and married different-sex couples in the ACS.

More than one-quarter of the estimated 565,000 same-sex couples in the United States designated themselves as spouses. Same-sex spouses were reported in every state.

"While nearly 150,000 same-sex couples consider themselves to be spouses, we estimate that 32,000 same-sex couples were legally married in the United States by the end of 2008," said Gary J. Gates, the Williams Distinguished Scholar and the study's author.  Some couples may have had religious ceremonies or commitment ceremonies, others may be in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships, and some may simply believe themselves to have a marriage-like relationship regardless of their legal relationship status.

The report finds that same-sex spouses are more common in states that permit marriage for same-sex couples or some form of legal recognition.  For example, Massachusetts, in which same-sex have been able to legally marry since 2004, has 3.63 same-sex spousal couples per 1,000 households, the most of any state.

When comparing same-sex spouses to same-sex unmarried couples and to married different-sex couples, the report finds many similarities between same-sex and different-sex spouses.  They are similar in terms of age, education, household income, and home-ownership rates.

The full report is available at www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute.

Other notable findings include:

Massachusetts, the first state to permit marriage for same-sex couples in 2004, had an estimated 3.63 same-sex spousal couples per 1,000 households in 2008, ranking first among all states. Vermont, which has offered civil unions since 2000, ranked second at 2.71. The remaining top five states ranked by same-sex spouse prevalence were Hawaii (2.43), Utah (2.32), and Wyoming (2.28).

The District of Columbia had the highest prevalence of same-sex unmarried partners per 1,000 households (13.22), followed by Maine (6.81), Washington (5.84), Oregon (5.73), and New York (5.15).

Same-sex spouses were more likely to be female; 56% of same-sex spouses were female while unmarried same-sex partners were evenly split between the sexes. This characteristic mirrors the higher rate of actual marriages by female couples in states that have extended marriage to same-sex couples.

Same-sex spouses were twice as likely to be raising children--more than 31% of spouses are raising children as opposed to 17% of unmarried partners.

Same-sex unmarried partners do differ in many ways from their different-sex unmarried counterparts. They are older, more educated, wealthier, more likely to own a home, more likely to be employed, and less likely to be raising children.

Gates notes that, "Despite the complicated legal status of same-sex couples in this country, many see themselves and spouses and, demographically, they look very much like married couples."  The report's findings underscore the significance of the Census Bureau's recent decision to more accurately report the responses of same-sex couples in the United States, whether as spouses or as unmarried partners.

 

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