Census: Gay couple households boom in Utah

Published July 28, 2011 10:47 am
Up by 73%, more couples identifying same-sex relationships in 2010 census than in 2000.
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Molly Butterworth, a Salt Lake City resident, liked that the 2010 Census form allowed her to identify her "Person 2" as both Chinese and white, correctly reflecting the diversity in her household. She also was pleased she could report that person as her "wife," even though her Massachusetts marriage license is not recognized in Utah.

More than ever before, same-sex couples living together in Utah are reporting their relationships in the U.S. Census. The number of households headed by gay and lesbian couples shot up by 73 percent over the past decade — and they now account for about one of every 150 households here, according to 2010 Census data released Thursday. In contrast, the total number of Utah households grew by 25 percent.

"Much of the increase is due to an increased willingness to report as opposed to Utah suddenly getting a surge of same-sex couples willing to move there, or that suddenly the [lesbian, gay and bisexual] population coupled at an increased rate," said Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California-Los Angeles Williams Institute.

Gates has noticed similar surges in other conservative states, including Arizona (70 percent), Montana (88 percent) and Oklahoma (70 percent). The growth was less dramatic in more socially liberal states, including California (36 percent) and New York (40 percent), where more gay couples may have felt just as comfortable reporting their status in 2000 as they did in 2010, Gates said. Household data has not yet been released for every state, so there is not a national average.

Meanwhile, the number of heterosexual couples living together in Utah without marrying also skyrocketed by 66 percent, and they now head one of every 25 households in the state.

The number of households headed by married couples increased by only 21 percent, but they account for three of every five Utah households.

University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich said those changes come as public polls and academic research have shown that Americans — especially the younger generation — are more accepting of gays and lesbians, and also increasingly question the need for marriage.

"Polls show about 70 percent of younger people are accepting [of gays]. There really is a generational shift," Perlich said, adding that Utah has the lowest median age in the nation. "I expect there is a similar propensity of younger kids to self-identify [as gay] more than the older folks who have been raised in very repressive and punitive sorts of environments where it's fine to fire people or not give people housing."

A changing climate made a difference for Kate Call, a 58-year-old American Fork resident, when she completed her Census form.

A decade ago, she was living with a lesbian partner on a ranch in San Juan County. She did not have mail service so a Census taker, someone she knew in small-town Blanding, came to pick up her 2000 form. She reported her girlfriend as a roommate, rather than an "unmarried partner" because she feared being outed.

"Generally, [people in rural Utah] are 'live and let live' but you will run into the occasional person who will discriminate against you," Call said.

In 2010, Call looked forward to reporting her unmarried partner in the 2010 Census. She was living near Moab at the time.

"I wanted to be counted in the state of Utah as being a same-sex couple," she said. "Some people think we are just a tiny fraction of the population when we're more populous than they realize."

The Census shows 5,814 households in Utah were headed by same-sex couples in 2010, up from 3,360 in 2000. The number includes heads of households who identified a second adult as either a same-sex spouse or unmarried partner.

Every county in Utah had at least one household headed by a gay couple — although Daggett and Piute counties reported only one each. Eighty percent of same-sex couples live in the four Wasatch Front counties of Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber.

Salt Lake County was home to 54 percent of Utah's same-sex couple households. Salt Lake City itself claimed 19 percent, followed by 6 percent in West Valley City and 5 percent in Millcreek.

Nearly a third of all same-sex couples — 1,813 — have children under the age of 18 in their homes.

Tony Butterfield, a father of 9-year-old twin boys, said he enjoys living in Sandy, where his kids can be close to their grandparents and cousins. He teaches chemical engineering at the University of Utah and his husband, Paul, stays home with the kids. (The couple married in California in 2008 during the window that same-sex marriages were legal there.)

"When it comes to everyday interactions with the people of Utah, I find that, as soon as they get to know us, all the politics and biases go out the window and they are just our neighbors and friends," Butterfield said. "In Utah, the biggest problem are the people who don't know us."

Butterworth and Davida Wegner, who married in Butterworth's hometown of Nantucket, Mass., in 2007, are among the couples who are new to Utah — not just newly counted. Butterworth moved to Salt Lake City six years ago to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Utah. Wegner, a graphic artist at Whole Foods Market, followed a couple of years later when she had finished a master's degree at Yale.

"Utah is more diverse than people view it from far away," said 31-year-old Butterworth.

She counts the Wasatch Mountains, affordable cost-of-living and cultural opportunities such as Cedar City's annual Shakespeare festival among the perks of living in Utah.

"Originally, we thought we definitely wouldn't stay in Utah" after finishing graduate work, Butterworth said. "Right now, I really don't know."



More online

To view more 2010 Census data, go to • http://2010.census.gov.



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