Number of same-sex couples grew by 80 percent since 2000

For every 1,000 couples living in Illinois, around 7 of them are same-sex couples. That may not sound like a lot, but the overall number of same-sex couples in the U.S. has grown by 80 percent since the 2000, census officials said yesterday.

The number of those couples listing themselves as married has nearly doubled - up 197 percent. While still relatively small - 131,729 couples for the entire nation, according to the latest estimates - that number may continue to rise as states like Illinois pass laws legally recognizing these partnerships.

Who are these couples and where do they live? The Williams Institute, a division of the University of California law school that studies sexual orientation and gender identity law, says about 58 percent of Illinois' same sex couples are female. While the majority are not raising children, 21 percent are.

Cook County and Chicago have the highest populations of same sex couples - 18,202 and 13,126, respectively. That means in Cook County, same sex couples represent about 9 of every 1,000 couples and in Chicago, over 12.

Here's a map from the Williams Institute of where same-sex couples reside throughout Illinois:

Figuring out the number of same-sex couples is no easy task. Coding errors on the 2010 census led to initial estimates being too high. But advocates say overall, the actual number of same-sex couples might be much higher, particularly the number of couples who are considered "married" by their state.

Lois Farnham, a Vermont resident, first got a civil union and then married her partner in 2009. She told NPR that the number of same-sex couples could be higher, considering the number of people who keep quiet about their relationship.

"They can't share that with a lot of people for family or job security reasons. It's still an issue and people are still being discriminated against," she said.

In addition, some couples may be legally married in their state, but because the census is a federal survey, they might have checked "unmarried" on the census form because the federal government doesn't recognize their marriages.

Will these new numbers play a role in states that are battling over the issue of gay marriage? Tell us what you think.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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