Census numbers show same-sex couples now willing to be counted, indicating a trend of greater social acceptance.
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI, aviglucci@MiamiHerald.com
The 2010 Census counted some 65,000 same-sex households across Florida, many of them raising children, data released Thursday shows.
The number of people reporting on their Census forms that they are in same-sex relationships represents a tiny percentage of the state’s 7.4 million households, the data shows. About 46 percent of state households are made up of husband-wife couples, according to the data, part of a massive release of statistical tables compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau based on last year’s decennial count.
The Census Bureau and some experts released statements warning that the same-sex numbers may be erroneous, however. The bureau said it will issue a revised table at a later date.
The same-sex household numbers have been among the most eagerly awaited of the 2010 Census, in part because for the first time they reflect how many gay couples are raising children. Later this year, the Census Bureau will report another first -- how many same-sex couples report being married. This is the third Census in which the bureau has enumerated same-sex couples, but the first since a few states - not including Florida - began allowing gay couples to legally wed.
Some same-sex couples in Florida got married in other states.
The uncertainly over the numbers’ significance underscores the pitfalls involved in the government’s efforts to count a social minority that until relatively recently was widely stigmatized and largely unacknowledged.
Despite the statistical issues, however, experts who have followed the state-by-state releases over the past several weeks say they have seen a clear trend: increases of around 50 percent since the 2000 Census in reported same-sex households virtually everywhere. On a broad scale, they say, that doesn’t represent an increase in the number of same-sex households so much as a greater willingness by gay couples to report accurately to the government.
That willingness, in turn, reflects a greater social acceptance of same-sex couples across the country, said Gary Gates, distinguished scholar at the UCLA law school’s Williams Institute, which focuses on legal issues related to sexual orientation. Some of the biggest jumps in reported same-sex households since 2000 came in conservative areas and states like Montana, he said.
Florida saw a jump from some 40,000 reported same-sex households in 2000, an increase of more than 50 percent. Though Gates cautioned that the precise numbers may be inaccurate, he said statistical errors alone cannot account for the significant rise. In fact, he says annual Census Bureau estimates already suggest the greatest increases in reported same-sex couples in the state to be in areas of largely conservative Northern Florida where social stigma previously kept many gays in the closet.
“These data are showing that throughout the country there is greater, broad social acceptance of same-sex couples,’’ said Gates, who is analyzing state-by-state numbers as they are released. “The data undermine the stereotype of same-sex couples as largely white and urban, and emphasize that same-sex couples do in fact live every where in the country, including rural areas and in racial and ethnic minority communities.’’
Some of the increase in same-sex couples in Florida may also simply reflect the state’s continuing population growth, Gates said. Cities in some other states that are draws for retirees, including New Hope, Pa., Gates said, have seen increases in same-sex couples that likely reflect real growth as gay couples move to them after retiring.
Not unexpectedly, many of the state’s same-sex couples reside in South Florida, with slightly more than 9,000 in Broward County and around 7,400 in Miami-Dade, with an additional 600 or so living in Monroe. Male couples outnumber female couples across the board, in a few places like Fort Lauderdale by huge numbers.
About a fifth of the state’s same-sex couples are raising children.
Gates and the Census Bureau believe the overall numbers may be at least somewhat inflated, however, in part because an analysis of the data suggested some members of heterosexual households appear to have erroneously checked a box indicating they were a same-sex couple.
Gates, however, says that at the same time independent surveys taken after the 2010 Census suggest that as many as 15 percent of same-sex couples did not report their status accurately to the government. That would have led to a likely undercount of same-sex households that would largely cancel out the errors by heterosexual couples, he said.
“What it says to me is how big this phenomenon of people hiding they are in a same-sex couple still is,’’ Gates said. “But it’s hard to quantify people who don’t want to be counted. That’s the whole point of being in the closet.’’