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Gay or not, couples similar, data shows


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Same-sex couples who identify as married are similar to straight spouses in terms of age and income, and nearly one-third of them are raising children, according to Census data released yesterday that provides a demographic snapshot of gay families in America.

The study released by a think tank based at UCLA also found that Utah and Wyoming were among the states with the highest percentages of gay spouses in 2008, despite being heavily conservative states with no laws providing legal recognition of gay relationships.

The data from the annual American Community Survey showed that nearly 150,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., or more than one in four, referred to one another as “;husband”; or “;wife,”; although UCLA researchers estimate that no more than 32,000 of the couples were legally married.

The couples had an average age of 52 and household incomes of $91,558, while 31 percent were raising children. That compares with an average age of 50, household income of $95,075 and 43 percent raising children for married heterosexual couples.

“;It's intrinsically interesting that same-sex couples who use the term spouses look like opposite-sex married couples even with a characteristic like children,”; said Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who conducted the analysis.

Gates said the report is the first to reliably compare same-sex couples who identify as married with gays who say they are in unmarried partnerships and with married opposite-sex couples.

In the past, same-sex couples who referred to one another as “;husband”; or “;wife”; automatically were recorded as unmarried partners, a step gay rights activists lobbied the Census Bureau to eliminate as more states have legalized same-sex unions.

Unsurprisingly, Massachusetts, where gay couples have been able to get married since 2004, had the highest proportion of same-sex couples who were either legally married or considered themselves married, 3.63 for every 1,000 households. Vermont, which made same-sex marriages legal this year, came in second, with a rate of 2.71 per 1,000.

But Hawaii, Utah and Wyoming—states with neither civil unions nor same-sex marriage—came in next, ahead of California, Nevada, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Although the report includes the first official estimates for the number of same-sex couples who call themselves wives or husbands, Gates said collecting accurate data on the marital status of gay couples remains difficult because of the hodgepodge of laws affecting their relationships.