CHARLOTTE — New data crunched and analyzed by a California think tank has revealed striking information on the number and density of same-sex couples living in North Carolina.

The Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles’ School of Law released the data at the end of June, compiled from information gleaned from the 2010 U.S. Census. The new information shows high densities of same-sex couples living in Buncombe, Durham, Avery, Orange and Mecklenburg Counties. The data also showed a surprising 68 percent increase in the number of same-sex couples living in the state, from a little over 11,000 in 2000 to more than 27,000 couples today.

Gary Gates, the lead researcher at the Williams Institute, has cautioned against drawing conclusions based alone on the increase in the number of same-sex couples.

Same-sex couples per 1,000 households by census tract (adjusted)

Percent of same-sex couples raising children by county (adjusted)

Authors: Gary J. Gates, PhD, UCLA School of Law; Abigail M. Cooke, PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UCLA and is affiliated with the California Center for Population Research.

More: For more information on the data presented please reference the Williams Institute’s full “Census Snapshot.” For more detailed information on the data adjustment procedure used to analyze this data, see their full adjustment procedures.

Graphics courtesy Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.

“For a variety of technical reasons, the same-sex couple data are not completely comparable between 2000 and 2010, however, the observed increases are much more likely a result of increased reporting rather than a dramatic change in coupling behavior among lesbians and gay men,” he told qnotes in an interview via email. “The biggest increases tend to be in more conservative areas in the country, where stigma was likely greater in Census 2000, so more couples probably hid there status then and are more comfortable identifying themselves today.”

Western North Carolina was among rural areas seeing a significant increase and high density of same-sex couples. Buncombe County, home to the overwhelmingly LGBT-inclusive Asheville, saw a 110 percent increase in the number of same-sex couples living there. The county’s rate of 15.5 same-sex couples per household is the highest of any county in the state. The City of Asheville itself reported 19.72 couples per 1,000 households, also the highest among the state’s cities.

Avery County, another Western North Carolina county, also ranked in the top five counties with the highest density of same-sex couples.

Most of the reported couples across the state are female; male same-sex couples accounted for only 36 percent of all same-sex couples in North Carolina.

Among other interesting findings was the percentage of same-sex couples raising children — some of the highest percentages are found in rural areas in the west and east.

Up to 25 percent of couples in Buncombe County are raising children. Some of their Western North Carolina neighbors — Alexander, Catawba, McDowell and Wilkes Counties — have as many as 36 percent of same-sex couples raising children. Even higher percentages were found in the Eastern North Carolina counties of Camden, Hyde, Lenoir and Onslow. There — as in Anson, Richmond, Scotland, Stokes and Vance Counties — 37 percent or more of same-sex couples are raising children.

Gates says the incidence of rural families headed by same-sex couples in North Carolina isn’t surprising.

“We have observed for quite some time now that same-sex couples that live in rural areas are much more likely to be raising children than their urban counterparts,” he said.

Gates notes that the overwhelming majority of children with same-sex parents were not adopted.

“…[I]t’s still likely that most children being raised by same-sex couples are the product of a prior relationship with a different-sex couple by one of the…partners,” he said. “This likely occured before the person was out. This scenario is more common in more conservative places where people come out later in life and are more likely to have had children.”

Altogether, 23 percent of same-sex couples across the state are raising children.

Though Gates’ research provides an interesting snapshot of LGBT life, it isn’t complete. For starters, the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t ask demographic information based on sexual orientation or gender-identity. Regardless, Gates says some correlations can be made between the data on same-sex couples and the LGBT general population.

“In the past, areas with concentrations of same-sex couples that exceed the national average have generally been areas with reputations for higher concentrations of LGBT people,” he said. “We don’t have quite enough data released from Census 2010 yet to draw firm conclusions, however, it’s probably not surprising the North Carolina’s concentration of 7.28 same-sex couples per 1,000 housholds falls in between Alabama at 5.98 and California at nearly 10.”

North Carolina is the tenth-most populated state in the Union and considered by many to be more progressive on LGBT issues. In 2009, it became the first state in the South to pass a fully LGBT-inclusive safe schools law.

That LGBT-friendliness will be tested this fall as legislators here are poised to consider an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that could ban both marriage and other relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, recently confirmed the amendment would be heard in a special legislative session in September. (See story on page 24.)

Statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina said the amendment carries dire consequences for the state’s decades-old progressive and business-friendly reputation.

“North Carolina has traditionally be seen as one of the best states in the nation to live, work, raise a family and start a business, based in large part on our state’s focus on freedoms and fairness for all citizens,” Alex Miller, the group’s interim executive director, said in a release. “One of the dangers with the proposed amendment is not only that it would prevent fair-minded people and businesses from seeing North Carolina as a welcoming place to relocate, and these new figures clearly show this type of discriminatory legislation would have an even greater negative impact among our current population.”

Miller says the new census data should give legislators pause.

“Legislators need to be aware that the proposed anti-LGBT amendment will affect a larger percentage of our citizens than was previously understood, and that the friends, neighbors and co-workers of these couples will be unwilling to support a measure that enshrines discrimination against them into our state’s constitution,” he said. : :

Top fives counties

Buncombe 1,558 15.52
Durham 1,391 12.72
Avery 70 10.42
Orange 536 10.42
Mecklenburg 3,385 9.35

Top five cities

Asheville 737 19.72
Durham 1,232 13.18
Carrboro 107 12.46
Garner 107 10.44
Charlotte 2,819 9.73

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

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