WASHINGTON – Same-sex partners made up 1 percent of the couples, married and unmarried, who were living together in Maryland in 2000, according to a first-ever report to be released today by the Census Bureau.
The report said that there were 11,243 gay couples keeping house in Maryland in 2000 — 6,013 female couples and 5,230 male couples. The percentage of gay households in the state mirrored the national rate of 1 percent.
But Jon A. Kaplan, executive director of the gay-rights group Free State Justice, said he thinks the numbers of gay couples are low.
“A lot of people are afraid to be who they are because of the narrow- mindedness of their community members . . . especially in the rural areas in the state. I would imagine in some places, a lot of people might not have reported that” they lived with a partner, Kaplan said.
“Some people might not be sure of what happens with the data. It’s just a fact that people are still concerned about discrimination and their safety and how they are going to be judged,” he said.
The report was drawn from the 2000 Census. While the bureau has allowed people to choose “unmarried partner” since 1990 to describe their relationship with someone in their household, this was the first time it has issued a report on unmarried couples.
Besides reporting on gay couples, the Census also said that unmarried heterosexual couples made up 9 percent of couples in the state, slightly higher than the national rate of 8.1 percent.
David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization dedicated to gay rights, called the 2000 data “the most comprehensive picture to date of gay families living in the United States.” But he agreed with Kaplan that “it’s a definite undercount” of the actual gay population.
“It’s not easy for some people to come forward and identify themselves . . . primarily because of fear,” Smith said.
But Census officials defended the report.
“Census 2000 was one of the most accurate censuses to date,” said Stephen Buckner, a bureau spokesman.
Tim Wildmon, president of the conservative advocacy group American Family Association, said he also believes the numbers are correct.
“I think the percentages are right, but I wish that weren’t so, because our group believes in a Judeo-Christian view of marriage,” he said.
Wildmon challenged the suggestion that gay couples would be hesitant to identify themselves.
“I think the stigma is pretty well wiped out. I don’t know why they are afraid to admit that they are homosexual or lesbian if they are living together,” he said.
Buckner said participants should not be afraid to disclose any requested information.
“The data is held under the strictest confidentiality for 72 years,” when it is released to help research such as genealogy and sociology, he said.
No group should be afraid to report to the Census, said Buckner, particularly groups like gays or undocumented aliens in need of political or social representation. He said Census “data enables and empowers communities to be able to make informed decisions about their populations.”
“The Census is about power and money,” he added.