By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Same-sex partners made up less than 1 percent of Maryland’s 1.9 million households in 2000, a Census figure that gay rights advocates challenged as a “serious undercount” of the state’s gay partners.
But while gay-rights groups warned that the housing numbers only count “about a fraction of the (homosexual) population,” pro-family groups said the count proves once and for all that gays and lesbians are much smaller in number than they claim.
The 2000 Census reported that 11,243 of Maryland’s households, or 0.57 percent, were made up of same-sex partners in 2000. The figure rises to 10.2 percent when same-sex households are compared to all households headed by unmarried partners.
But Census Bureau officials warn that the number of gay partners could be even lower, since the housing question could also cover roommates who were the same sex but who were not involved in sexual relationships.
The state’s rate of same-sex-partner households was fractionally above the national rate of 0.56 percent. Maryland’s 2000 rate was also up from the 1990 Census, when only 0.17 percent of the state’s households were reported as having same-sex partners.
Gay-rights advocates tried to put the best face on the numbers Wednesday, saying that even though they likely undercounted the numbers of homosexual couples in the state, they still showed same-sex partners in every county. Percentages ranged from 0.8 percent in Baltimore City to 0.18 in Garrett County.
The fact that there are same-sex households in every corner of the state, no matter how small, “makes less room for ignoring a portion of the state’s electorate,” said Stacy Roth, executive director of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Study.
Roth said one reason the numbers are so low could be the fact that this was only the second census to ask the question. Many gay couples may not yet be comfortable with “coming out” in a federal census, advocates said.
“People are definitely not yet comfortable identifying themselves as gay on a federal questionnaire,” said David Smith, spokesman for another gay rights advocacy group, Human Rights Campaign.
Gary Gates, a research associate at the Urban Institute, said a proper analysis of the Census would show that homosexuals live in 99.9 percent of counties in the country. That, he said, adds weight to issues like gay adoption, equal employment opportunities and gays in the military.
Gates said that couples only represent about one-third of the country’s gay population “so you are only counting about a fraction of the population.”
Roth and others also noted that the housing figures do not count all homosexuals in the country. The Census is prohibited from asking about sexual orientation. Roth said that makes the same-sex partners number a less-than-ideal measure of the total gay population.
But groups advocating for the protection of “traditional” American values seized on the numbers as proof that gays do not make up 10 percent of the overall population, contrary to what they claim.
“I believe that less than 1 percent of the population is engaged in homosexual behavior, so to have gay households coming in at less than 1 percent is not at all surprising,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute.
Pro-family activists charge that homosexuals have inflated their population numbers over the years to push their causes.
“It’s a little bit galling to have such a small percentage asking the entire culture to completely revamp their views,” said Ed Vitagliano, a spokesman for the American Family Association.
Both men dismissed claims by gay-rights groups that the numbers were not accurate.
“No matter what gay activists say, the most accurate count we have is the Census,” Vitagliano said.
Even if there were an undercount, Knight said, “it couldn’t fully explain the gaping discrepancy between the often-claimed 10 percent estimate and this tiny figure. If you look at other states, this is not out of line.”