Press

601,209 and Counting: Census Figures on Same-Sex, Unmarried Partner Households Released For All 50 States

Date: 
August 22, 2001

The U.S. Census Bureau today released the final set of statistics detailing the number of unmarried, same-sex partner households for all 50 states. The numbers show that 601,209 same-sex, unmarried partner households were counted in the 2000 Census, a 314 percent increase over the 145,130 same-sex, unmarried partner households tallied in the 1990 Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported the presence of same-sex, unmarried partner households in 99.3 percent of all counties in the United States; only 22 counties in the entire country reported no same-sex households.

Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the statistics represent an important milestone in the history of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender struggle for equality. "Never again will a state legislator or city council member be able to say, ‘But I don’t have any gay or lesbian people in my district,’" Jean said. "The 2000 Census, while flawed, nonetheless represents the best count of same-sex, unmarried couples ever conducted. This data will make it easier for us to push for full recognition of our family relationships when public policy is formed, whether it is in city hall, the state house or the boardroom of a private corporation."

Paula Ettelbrick, NGLTF Family Policy director, attributed the significant increase in the 2000 statistics to three factors: a better counting methodology used by the U.S. Census Bureau, a public awareness campaign launched by NGLTF and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies and, most importantly, a growing sense of willingness among same-sex couples to disclose their status on a government form.

"These statistics document better than ever before the existence of same-sex families," Ettelbrick said. "However, they only tell part of the story. Imagine how high the numbers would be if single gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were counted, if those in relationships but not living in the same household were counted and if every same-sex couple felt comfortable disclosing their status on a government form."

A 50-state breakdown of the Census figures reveals a rough correlation between population size and the size of the increase in the number of reported same-sex, unmarried households. Generally speaking, the largest increases came in rural, sparsely populated, more conservative states, while the smallest increases came in the more populated and urban states. For instance, the five states with the largest increases were, in order, Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho, West Virginia and Delaware. The states with the smallest increases were, in order, California, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. For a state-by-state breakdown, please visit NGLTF’s Census Resource Center.

Ettelbrick said the disparity between the urban and rural states is probably due to better reporting in the 2000 Census compared with the 1990 Census. "We think that same-sex couples in rural states felt more comfortable reporting their status in the year 2000 than they did in 1990," Ettelbrick said. "This resulted in a better and more realistic count in the nation’s rural areas. The numbers document what we have suspected all along – same-sex couples exist in every area of the country, including rural areas and suburbs as well as large cities."

During the spring of 2000, the NGLTF Policy Institute and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies sponsored a nationwide campaign called "Make Your Family Count!" This public education campaign, which reached approximately 18 million newspaper readers, was aimed at encouraging same-sex couples within GLBT communities to be counted in the U.S. Census.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.