Williams Institute survey shows that 1 in 7 same-sex couples will not be identified in Census 2010; 30% of same-sex couples are in legal relationships

“Government surveys must improve and adapt to the changing landscape of relationship recognition in this country,” says Williams Institute Scholar Dr. Gary Gates

September 7, 2010


Media Contacts: Gary J. Gates, 310.825.1868 (O) or 202.257.6400 (C), gates@law.ucla.edu Cathy Renna, 917-757-6123, cathy@rennacommunications.com

PDF: http://www.law.ucla.edu/WilliamsInstitute/pdf/2010CensusAnalysis_PR_Sept7.pdf

LOS ANGELES — The Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law issued results of a survey showing that while 99% of same-sex couples participated in Census 2010, 1 in 7 same-sex couples will not be identified as such in Census 2010. In addition, survey findings also show that 30% of same-sex couples are either married (14%) or in a civil union or registered domestic partnership (15%). More than 4 in 10 of those couples in legal relationships do not live in states that recognize their marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership.

Williams Institute scholars designed the national survey conducted by Harris Interactive in June, 2010 that asked more than 600 individuals in cohabiting same-sex couples about their participation in Census 2010. The survey was designed to understand if and how same-sex couples completed their Census 2010 form and why they chose the options they did to identify their relationship.

Same-sex couples are identified in Census data when one partner is “Person 1” in a household and designates the other as a husband, wife, or an unmarried partner. The survey found that 1 in 10 individuals in same-sex couples opted to identify as roommates on their Census forms. An additional 5% of couples are not identified because they live in a household where neither partner is Person 1.

Respondents who used terms other than spouse or unmarried partner cited three main reasons for their decision. About a third said that they just thought of their relationship in some other way, a quarter cited confidentiality concerns about disclosing their relationship, and a third were protesting either because they opposed the fact that the Census was not asking a sexual orientation or gender identity question or they were offended by the options presented.

Study author and Williams Distinguished Scholar Gary J. Gates notes that, “The survey reveals an interesting contrast in the reasons why some same-sex couples won’t be identified in the Census. While many still experience stigma and are reluctant to call themselves spouses or partners, an even larger group seems perfectly comfortable identifying but feels the Census does not provide an appropriate term or even a question to identify their sexual orientation.”

The survey also shows a high level of correspondence between couples’ legal relationship status and their responses on the Census. While virtually all couples who were not in a legally recognized relationship called themselves unmarried partners, the census form options were more challenging for those in legal relationships. Most married couples (80%) called themselves spouses but that figure was higher (89%) in states that recognized the marriage. Only 62% of married couples in states that did not recognize the marriage used husband or wife.

Approximately 84% of those in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships called themselves unmarried partners. A quarter of these couples who lived in states where their status was recognized called themselves spouses compared to just 12% among those who lived in states with no recognition.

Gates comments that, “Choosing unmarried partner seems obvious for couples who are not married and not in a civil union or registered domestic partnership, but the Census forms are more challenging and confusing for those who are married but live in states that do not recognize the marriage or those who are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships. Government surveys must improve and adapt to the changing landscape of relationship recognition in this country.”

The findings provide insight into how to interpret same-sex couple data from Census 2010 that will be released next year. Most couples (86%) who called themselves spouses were either married (71%) or in a civil union or registered domestic partnership (15%). Virtually all couples (99%) who used unmarried partner were either not married (96%) or were married but lived in a state that did not recognize their marriage (3%).

Other study findings include: • More than 9 in 10 same-sex couples completed and mailed their surveys back, a figure higher than the general population mail-back rate of 7 in 10 households. • Nearly all married couples who selected unmarried partner to describe their relationship said that they did so because either the federal or state government does not recognize their marriage. • Among those in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships who selected husband or wife to describe their relationship, virtually all said it was because they were in a legal relationship status or they simply thought of themselves as spouses. • More than 3% of individuals in same-sex couples indicated that they were transgender or had a transgender partner. Of that group, 55% said that they were either married or in a civil union or registered domestic partnership compared to only 28% of non-transgender respondents.