By Andrew Harmon
How to conduct an accurate count of the American population — an estimate that controls congressional seat allocation and the disbursement of billions in federal dollars to cash-strapped states and municipalities — is a reliable flashpoint of controversy when the U.S. Census rolls around every 10 years.
What seems to have drawn little controversy in the release of the 2010 Census over the past several months, however, is a Los Angeles–based LGBT research organization that partnered with the federal bureau to present the most detailed information to date on gay and lesbian households.
The data might seem humdrum without political livelihoods or budgets at stake, but the public has now seen a clearer snapshot of the LGBT population thanks to weekly installments over the summer from the Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, and the final state-by-state data set will be released next week. It’s part of a larger approach from the group that uses research, not rhetoric, to ensure LGBT people are visible.
The census does not inquire as to the sexual orientation or gender identity of respondents. But it does ask whether a person’s relationship with an adult of the same sex is described as “husband/wife” or “unmarried partner” as well as whether same-sex couples are raising children. Researchers have found, for instance, that 11,572 same-sex couples reside in Kentucky, where voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2004 banning gay marriage by a 3-1 margin. In North Carolina, 6,290 households headed by gay couples are raising children in a state that already statutorily bars them from marriage — showing what’s at stake if voters follow in the cruel direction of Kentucky and another 28 states and approve an anti–marriage equality constitutional amendment next year.
Rural counties often show higher rates of couples with children than urban and suburban ones, and regional media have steadily reported the dramatic increase in same-sex couples identifying their relationships, leading one fringe lawmaker to react by calling the rise “regrettable.”
“The influence of the church plays a factor here. We have more churches today … that are saying homosexuality does not go against biblical truth,” Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern told TheOklahoman last month. “Another factor is homosexuality is being taught in our schools as a normal and acceptable lifestyle, so when that happens, you are going to have more young people coming out of school who have a more favorable attitude towards homosexuality.”
But for the rest of us, numbers like LGBT Census data from a California think tank provide a statistical weapon. The Census results further countered long-propagated stereotypes that the LGBT population is wealthy, white, and living in urban gay neighborhoods. Upcoming reports from the Williams Institute will offer greater insight into some of the most pressing and headline-grabbing LGBT issues, including a demographic portrait of binational gay couples, who lack immigration sponsorship rights because of the Defense of Marriage Act.