The number of households headed by gays and lesbians in California grew six times faster than those of opposite-sex spouses between 2000 and 2010, a decade when the state was shaken by battles over same-sex marriage.
The population of homosexuals living together as partners climbed 36.2 percent, and the increase for married heterosexuals was 5.7 percent, according to census data released today. Even with the gain, same-sex domestic partners make up just 1 percent of all households in the most-populous state.
While the far smaller group’s growth rate was expected to outstrip that of married couples of the opposite sex, the rise is significant because of its magnitude and what it says about the willingness of gays and lesbians to reveal their status, said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Gay and lesbian couples have long felt more comfortable, and accepted, in such states as California and New York, said Gary Gates of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy in Los Angeles. That may be increasingly the case across the U.S.
The Census Bureau is gradually releasing details about ethnic origin, age, housing and family relationships in the 50 states -- and so far, data for Alabama show same-sex households there climbed 38.8 percent between 2000 and 2010, and that the rise was 42.1 percent in Wyoming and 55.4 percent in Kansas.
“You’ll see even bigger jumps in more conservative states,” Gates said. “The closet is getting smaller.”
Same-sex households in California totaled 125,516 in 2010, according to the census, compared with 6,213,310 led by opposite-sex spouses. While male couples slightly outnumbered female couples, the number of women as partners went up 43.2 percent, compared with a 30.3 percent rise for men.
In some suburbs -- such as Victorville outside Los Angeles and Elk Grove near Sacramento -- same-sex households tripled, the data show, suggesting gay and lesbian families are moving beyond urban areas.
“This is the Baby Boom ideology,” said Joel Kotkin, author of “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” a book about U.S. demographics. “When gay people get older and have kids they don’t want to live in a hip, cool, sometimes dodgy area. They want space and peace and quiet.”
The rise in same-sex households came as the Legislature expanded legal protections for homosexuals. The San Francisco- based advocacy group Equality California identified 62 laws passed since 1999 giving homosexual and other unmarried couples in California many of the rights married people have.
Gays and lesbians briefly won the ability to marry in May 2008, when the California Supreme Court decided limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was discriminatory. Six months later, voters overrode that decision with a ballot measure that was itself stuck down by a federal judge in August 2010.
The ban on same-sex marriage will remain while the case makes its way through the appeals process. In New York, a bill legalizing gay marriage, which Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has called a priority, is pending in the Senate. Federal law doesn’t recognize same-sex unions.
In California, there was an increase in unmarried people, gay and straight, living together. That group grew 32 percent to 902,967, the data show. Nationwide, people are delaying marriage, according to a May 18 Census Bureau report. It said almost 47 percent of women from 25 to 29 had never been married in 2009, almost double the 26 percent reported in 1986.
The same-sex marriage debate “changed the landscape,” said Jim Carroll, Equality California’s interim executive director. “People are more willing to identify as a couple. They perceive the changes in our society.”
Greg Facktor, a 49-year-old health-care consultant who lives in Los Angeles’s Hancock Park neighborhood with his partner Rob Meyers, cited other factors, including television’s acceptance of homosexuals as characters, and even stars. He said shows such as “Glee” on News Corp. (NWS)’s Fox allow young people to identify as gay earlier than in the past.
“It used to be you dated members of the opposite sex in college, moved to a big city, lived in a gayborhood and sort of relived your adolescence,” Facktor said. “Today they’re bringing their boyfriends to school functions and mainstreaming in a way that makes them more likely to settle down in parallel to their straight counterparts.”
The California cities with the most gay and lesbians living together as couples were Los Angeles, with 15,492 same-sex households, and San Francisco, with 10,384. Murrieta, 55 miles (89 kilometers) southeast of Anaheim, led the growth in same-sex domestic partners among large cities in the state, with a 237 percent jump to 192.
Althea Ingram, 67, moved to Murrieta from Chicago six years ago with her partner Theresa Greenway, 62, to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren. The couple wed in October 2008 during the window in which same-sex marriage was legal in the state.
Back then, Ingram said, lawn signs against gay marriage outnumbered pro-signs on their street by five-to-one. She said she had no idea the city of 103,000 had led the state in the growth of gay and lesbian households.
“I’m shocked,” she said. “I would love to have a party and have them all over.”
Editors: Anne Reifenberg, Pete Young
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com