Census data indicates increase in gay couples in Utah

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The number of reported same-sex couples living together in Utah jumped 73 percent over the past decade, according to recently released Census data. This came as the total number of Utah households grew by only 25 percent.The Census shows that the number of same-sex couples living together in Utah at 5,814, which is up from 3,360 in the year 2000.
Each county in Utah reported at least one same-sex couple, although more than 80 percent were reported in the four Wasatch Front counties of Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah. This could mean that more gay couples are moving into Utah, but more likely, it means that gay couples feel more comfortable reporting their relationship status, said Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California-Los Angeles Williams Institute. Although there are few legal protections for queer Utahns, there is a changing climate and a recent poll found that 42 percent of Utahns age 18 to 29 support legalizing gay marriage, while only 29 oppose it, indicating an evolving climate for gay couples.
“There is some general migration into Utah and that could largely come from more liberal areas, and people might feel more comfortable reporting it,” Gates said.

The trend of sky-rocketing reports of same-sex couples cohabiting holds true for more conservative areas, such as Montana (80 percent), Oklahoma (70 percent) and Arizona (70 percent), Gates said. While more traditionally liberal areas, such as California (36 percent), reported some growth, but not nearly at the same rate as Utah and other conservative areas, he said.

While Gates said he agrees with the overall trend of increased reporting of gay couples, there is a large margin of error in the data.  There are some inherit problems with the wording of the Census and some opposite-sex couples most likely inadvertently skewed the numbers to increase them.

“There are about 60 million opposite-sex couples in the U.S. and about 600,000 same-sex couples,” Gates said. “If even only one of every thousand opposite-sex couples accidentally mislabeled their relationship as a same-sex partnership, that could mean about a 10 percent error. And we actually believe this number to be much higher. We believe as many as 25 percent of same-sex couples are mislabeled.”

However, the number of gay couples that chose not to fill out the form indicating their relationship out of fear of some sort of retaliation or discrimination may offset that mislabeling, he said.

“While there is ample evidence that the trend indicates an increasing willingness to mark the Census indicating a same-sex relationship, I maintain a certain level of skepticism for the report,” Gates said.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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