The 2010 census marked the first time that same-sex married couples will be counted as such in the decennial population count. During the 2000 census, even when no state recognized same-sex marriages, many gay couples listed themselves as spouses; now that five states, plus the District of Columbia, issue licenses to same-sex couples, the bureau will be able to count them more accurately, and that data will be released for the first time ever this November. Detailed census data from recent years shows more specifically where high concentrations of same-sex couples are living. The data suggests that a large proportion of same-sex couples in a city, state, or region is a factor that sets the stage for legislation granting marriage rights to non-heterosexual couples.
All of the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest proportions of same-sex unmarried partnerships, according to data from the Census Bureau's 2005-2009 American Community Survey, are in states that currently grant either same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships. But only two of those states--Massachusetts and Maine--issued any type of legal same-sex partnerships for that entire period. Four of the 10 metropolitan areas with the greatest proportion of unmarried same-sex partners by household were in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004. This suggests that many Massachusetts cities may have far more gay couples who simply cannot be counted with this data. Maine, home to Portland which is at No. 4 on the list, also issued domestic partnerships starting in 2004. But the other states represented among the top 10--Vermont, California, Oregon, and New Hampshire--began issuing same-sex marriage licenses or partnerships much later, in some cases after the data-gathering period.
According to Michael Cole-Schwartz, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy organization, this is because government is a "lagging indicator" of public sentiment. "It is more likely, if you have an organized and active LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community, that you're going to see relationship recognition happen. This climate would have to come together before the political process."
Schwartz says that large gay communities often form in cities not because of the presence of gay-friendly legislation but because of the impression that they will be accepted. "One of the largest factors is really about perception, and how a place is perceived to be welcoming or not." Factors that can play into perception can be a city's political climate and the practices of its major employers, which may provide benefits to domestic partners.
According to Census Bureau data gathered from 2005 through 2009, below are the 10 cities with the highest proportion of unmarried partners of the same sex, as measured by household.
Metropolitan Area Percentage of Households Occupied by Unmarried Partners of Same Sex
1. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. 1.36%
2. Burlington-South Burlington, Vt. 1.12
3. Barnstable Town, Mass. 1.10
4. Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine 1.09
5. Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif. 1.03
6. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash. 1.00
7. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif. 0.95
8. Springfield, Mass. 0.92
9. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. 0.91
10. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H. 0.91
Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2005-9
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Corrected on 4/19/11: An earlier version of this article misstated the capital of Maine.