DALLAS (Reuters) - The number of couples who claim to be in a same-sex partnership has risen dramatically in conservative bastions of America such as the South and western mountain states, according to a new study released on Friday.
Such demographic trends could have political implications especially for the religious and conservative wing of the Republican Party which has used opposition to same-sex marriage and related “wedge issues” to get its flock to the polls.
The report by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law found that the number of reported U.S. same-sex couples had quadrupled to nearly 780,000 nationwide between 1990 and 2006.
Using U.S. census numbers taken every decade as well as recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), it found that by far the fastest growth was in areas associated with conservative politics and values.
The increase in same-sex unmarried couples who identified themselves as such in these surveys increased by a rate over 600 percent in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana — 22 times faster than the region’s general population growth.
The east south central states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee saw a combined increase of over 800 percent while the mountain states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Idaho had an increase of almost 700 percent over that 16-year period.
“The U.S. population is moving south and west but this growth tells that it is not just a case of migration. It tells you that same-sex couples are being more open and visible,” said Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute.
“It may be a case that more same-sex couples are willing to indicate this on government surveys so among other things what these data are capturing at least retrospectively is the size of the closet,” he told Reuters by phone.
Fort Worth, a north Texas city with a swaggering cowboy image, saw its number of reported same-sex unmarried partner couples between 1990 and 2006 rise to 2,254 from 196.
Fort Worth now has the 22nd highest concentration of same-sex unmarried partner couples of all cities nationally, at 8.51 couples per 1,000 households.
Interestingly, the study found that in states that have granted legal recognition to same-sex unions such as Massachusetts, the number reporting such a partnership had below average increases.
Compared to states with legal recognition, the report said: “The percentage increase in same-sex couples from 2000 to 2006 was nine percentage points higher in states without legal recognition of those couples (32 percent versus 23 percent).”
In states that had constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage or civil recognition of such unions, the increase in the number of reported same-sex couples over that period was even greater at 37 percent.
Gates said this suggested such initiatives tended to “draw gay couples out of the closet.”