Image: Ethan Collings and his spouse Stephen Abate hug
Lucy Nicholson  /  Reuters file
Ethan Collings, left, 32, and his spouse, Stephen Abate, 36, hug as they celebrate their wedding anniversary on June 16 in West Hollywood, Calif.
updated 9/21/2009 6:57:26 PM ET 2009-09-21T22:57:26

Nearly 150,000 same-sex couples reported being in marriage relationships last year, many more than the number of actual weddings and civil unions, according to the first U.S. census figures released on same-sex marriages.

About 27 percent of the estimated 564,743 total gay couples in the United States said they were in a relationship akin to "husband" and "wife," according to the Census Bureau tally provided to The Associated Press. That's compared with 91 percent of the 61.3 million total opposite-sex couples who reported being married.

A consultant to the Census Bureau estimated there were roughly 100,000 official same-sex weddings, civil unions and domestic partnerships in 2008.

Analysts said the disparities are probably a reflection of same-sex couples in committed relationships who would get married if they could in their states. The numbers are also an indicator of the count to come in the 2010 census, a tally that could stir a state-by-state fight over same-sex marriage, gay adoption and other legal rights.

Nationwide, about 56 percent of the 149,956 total same-sex marriages in the census survey last year were lesbian couples. Same-sex spouses were reported in every state; specific breakdowns weren't immediately available.

"Even though in 2008 there were only a few states where you could get legally married, a large portion of same-sex couples either were married or chose to use that term," said Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA who is advising the Census Bureau.

Preparing for 2010 count
Gates reviewed the number of marriage licenses issued and other factors to estimate the number of same-sex couples in legal relationships. During 2008, same-sex marriage was legal in California, Massachusetts, Iowa and Connecticut, while a handful of other states recognized civil unions and domestic partnerships. U.S. same-sex couples also can marry in Canada and other foreign countries.

Curtis Chin, 41, and Jeff Kim, 43, of Los Angeles, are among those who plan to report to the census that they are spouses. The two were planning a big wedding for 2009 but rushed into a private legal ceremony last fall when it became clear that California voters would soon ban same-sex marriages. Chin says he and Kim won't feel like they are really married until they do a follow-up ceremony in front of family and friends but believe it's important to get a full count.

"Gay couples are getting married or in committed relationships, and we are out here," he said.

The numbers come as the Census Bureau prepares to make an official count of same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships for the first time in the 2010 head count, following the Obama administration's decision to provide the numbers under pressure from gay-rights groups.

The figures provided to the AP also included higher, previously unreleased numbers for the three previous years.

In 2007, 341,000 out of 753,618 total same-sex couples reported being in a marriage relationship, even though only about 11,000 marriage licenses had been issued in the country. The numbers were even higher for 2005 and 2006; about 390,000 each year reported being in a same-sex marriage out of nearly 780,000 reported gay couples.

Martin O'Connell, the Census Bureau's chief of the fertility and family statistics branch, attributed the higher numbers in previous years to a confusing survey layout and formatting errors. He said those problems were corrected for 2008.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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