Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The number of same-sex households in the U.S. surged by about 80 percent during the past decade, a period that saw the introduction of legalized gay marriage at the state level.
The U.S. Census Bureau yesterday said the number of same-sex households grew to 646,464 in 2010 from 358,390 in 2000 --an announcement that was marred by the agency’s acknowledgment that it had over-counted the number in an initial survey this summer. The bureau revised down last year’s figure by more than one-fourth, citing flaws in the earlier count. The original count had found an increase to 901,997 from 594,391.
The revised figure, a decrease of 28.3 percent, includes 131,729 same-sex married couples and 514,735 same-sex unmarried couples. The release of same-sex married couples was a first for the census because gay marriages weren’t legal in 2000.
“Regardless of the issue that they’ve dealt with in their revised estimates, we’re seeing a huge increase in the last 10 years, and it really helps highlight the fact that same-sex couples are out there,” said Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group for gay rights. “Many of them are married now and they’re still experiencing unequal treatment.”
The revision, which dropped the number of same-sex households by more than 255,000, means that same-sex couples represent 0.55 percent of all U.S. households, or 1 in 182, down from 0.77 percent, or 1 in 130, in the initial count.
Some opponents of gay marriage said the figures may have political implications.
“The low numbers should indicate to politicians that they need not fear alienating this population by opposing same-sex marriage because it’s such a small portion of the overall population,” said Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Washington-based Family Research Council, a group that presses for religious values in public policy.
Both Moulton and Sprigg said the new figures won’t affect government funding because the federal Defense of Marriage Act already prohibits extending benefits such as medical care and housing allowances to same-sex couples.
The rate of married couples among same-sex households was highest in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to allow gay couples to marry, in 2004. Slightly fewer than 44 percent of Massachusetts same-sex households consisted of married couples.
Other states that have legalized gay marriage include Vermont, California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and New York, as well as the District of Columbia.
Maine the Lowest
The rate was the lowest in Maine, where only 407 of 3,958, or 10.3 percent of same-sex households, consisted of couples who were legally married.
The revision in the overall same-sex household count was largest in North Dakota, whose number of same-sex households dropped 49.8 percent, to 559, from 1,113 in the earlier count. The District of Columbia had the smallest decline, 6.3 percent, to 4,822 from 5,146 same-sex households.
The revised numbers stemmed from a problem that appeared to have been caused by follow-up surveys of people who didn’t respond to the first census form, according to Martin O’Connell, chief of the fertility and family statistics branch of the bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division.
“What we want to try to do is basically correct the census numbers,” he said yesterday in a telephone call with reporters that was devoted almost entirely to explaining the mistake.
“There’s no dispute that the same-sex couples population increased between 2000 and 2010,” O’Connell said. “We’re trying to get a better grip on the actual numbers and the actual increase.”
William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has been studying the census for more than 30 years, said it’s not uncommon for these kinds of errors to happen.
“It’s a gargantuan task to count everybody in the country,” Frey said. “There are bound to be some inaccuracies.”
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