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Census 2000  
 
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Census 2000 revealed that there were 594,391 same-sex "unmarried partner" couples in the United States (301,026 male couples and 293,365 female couples), now commonly understood to refer to gay male and lesbian couples. These couples are present in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties.

Importance of the Census

Census 2000 data on same-sex partners represent the largest and most comprehensive source of data on gay and lesbian couples living in the United States. Census 2000 is also the only data source available to study characteristics of gay and lesbian families at the national, state, city, and even neighborhood level.

Sponsor Message.

Of all government-data collection processes, none have the weight of the decennial census. Administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, the census is conducted for the constitutionally mandated purpose of apportioning congressional seats among the 50 states. In addition to its mandated purpose, the decennial census is also used to determine the appropriate distribution of government funding, draw state legislative districts, evaluate the success of programs, identify populations in need of services, and a host of other functions.

Key Findings

Key findings from Census 2000 regarding same-sex couples include the following.

Among the 50 states, Vermont has the highest concentration of same-sex couples (nearly 1 percent of all households), followed by California, Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

Among metropolitan areas, San Francisco has the highest concentration of same-sex couples (1.75 percent of all households), followed by Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, California, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Oakland, California.

Among smaller towns, Provincetown, Massachusetts has the highest concentration (12.8 percent of all households), followed by Guerneville, California, Wilton Manors, Florida, West Hollywood and Palm Springs, California.

Nearly a quarter of same-sex couples are raising children, and these families live in 96 percent of U.S. counties. Same-sex couples are most likely to have children in Mississippi (41 percent are raising children) and San Antonio, Texas (36 percent).

More than one in ten same-sex couples includes a senior aged 65 or older.

Sumter, South Carolina has the highest portion of African-American same-sex couples (2.6 per 1,000 households); and McAllen, Texas has the highest proportion of Hispanic same-sex couples (5.3 per 1,000 households).

Data Collection

To gather the data in Census 2000, the Census Bureau sent each housing unit in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico a census questionnaire with six basic questions about each person in the household: name, sex, age, relationship to the householder, Hispanic origin, and race. The householder (the person filling out the census form) was also asked whether the housing unit was rented or owned.

These seven questions comprise what is commonly called the census "short form." One in six U.S. households also received a "long form" with detailed questions about housing, employment, income, and military service.

Identifying Same-Sex Couples

The census does not ask questions about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, or sexual attraction, three common ways used to identify gay men and lesbians in surveys. Rather, census forms include a number of relationship categories to define how individuals in a household are related to the householder. These fall into two broad categories: related persons (including husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister, and so on), and unrelated persons.

Since 1990, the Census Bureau has included an "unmarried partner" category to describe an unrelated household member's relationship to the householder. If the householder designates another adult of the same sex as his or her unmarried partner, the household counts as a same-sex unmarried partner household. Research comparing 1990 Census data on same-sex unmarried partners and data from other surveys provides strong evidence that same-sex unmarried partners counted by the census are by and large gay male and lesbian couples.

It is possible that a gay or lesbian couple could consider themselves "married," based on their own interpretation of that social construct, even though at the time the census was collected, no state government officially recognized marital unions between two people of the same sex.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the Census Bureau from reporting marriage statistics that include anything other than opposite-sex couples. However, in post-collection data editing procedures used in Census 2000, the "husband/wife" relationship designation was changed to an "unmarried partner" relationship when the couple was of the same sex. The couple was then officially counted as a same-sex unmarried partner couple. In short, same-sex couples who considered themselves married are included in the 2000 counts of same-sex unmarried partners.

Undercount of Same-sex Unmarried Partners

Any analysis of Census 2000's count of same-sex unmarried partners must consider the issue of a likely undercount. There are several potential reasons for an undercount. Concerns about the confidentiality of their responses may have led many gay male and lesbian couples to indicate a status that would not provide evidence of the true nature of their relationship. Other couples may have felt that neither "unmarried partner" nor "husband/wife" accurately describes their relationship. A study of the undercount of same-sex unmarried partners in Census 2000 indicates that these were the two most common reasons that gay male and lesbian couples chose not to designate themselves as unmarried partners.

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