Oklahoma became one of the first states to place a ban on gay marriage seven years ago, yet the number of residents who say they are living with a same-sex partner has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, according to U.S. Census figures.
The number of male respondents who said they were living with male partners increased to 4,393 in 2010, a 56 percent increase from the 2000 Census. The number of women who said they were living with female partners went up more than 83 percent over the same period, from 2,952 to 5,409, the Census found. There was also a nearly 63 percent increase in the number of respondents, gay and straight, who said they were unmarried and living with their partner, from 53,307 in 2000 to 86,694 last year.
Last year's Census was the first in which gays and lesbians could declare the nature of their relationships on their form — whether they were married or had an unmarried partner. It also was the first in which transgender people could identify themselves as such.
“It certainly seems to reflect a growing trend among the gay and lesbian population to be identified and counted,” said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “We've had another 10 years of growth and awareness and overall acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships.”
The growth of same-sex households here keeps with the national trend of more gays and lesbians being accepted in society, state advocates say. Last month, New York became the largest state to approve gay marriage.
The jump in same-sex households in Oklahoma can also be attributed to an aggressive campaign by local gay and lesbian communities to be included in the recent census.
“This is the first time we've accurately tried to document how many American households are same-sex households,” said Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, which has its headquarters in Tulsa's Dennis R. Neill Equality Center — the fifth-largest gay community center in the world. “Some of what you're seeing is an accurate accounting of what has been there all along.
“We're not going away and we're not leaving the state,” he said.
Jenkins said Tulsa, in particular, was singled out in 2007 by the Census bureau as one of five “emerging cities” where gay couples were relocating.
“What's finally happening is gay couples and gay families and gay individuals are finally saying we're not leaving our home state and our home towns,” Jenkins said.