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.
Oklahoma City effort
In Oklahoma City, the push among the gay and lesbian community to be counted in the 2010 Census was similar to Tulsa's, said Scott J. Hamilton, the executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to advocacy and education on
“We went to the clubs, we stood on street corners, we made T-shirts, we talked to everybody who would listen,” said Hamilton, who is gay and lives with his longtime partner. “Because the greater significance that we could demonstrate in the state (through the census), the greater our journey toward equality.”
Some social conservatives in Oklahoma's Legislature said they were ambivalent about the increase in residents identifying themselves as living in a same-sex household.
“It's not illegal, is it?” asked State Rep. Mike Ritze, of Broken Arrow. “Whether people want to be living together in that situation, that's their choice.”
State Rep. Sally Kern, who said three years ago that she thinks gay people posed a greater threat to the U.S. than terrorists, said she wasn't surprised the numbers had gone up, and that she finds this
“I think the influence of the church plays a factor here. We have more churches today ... that are saying homosexuality does not go against biblical truth,” said Kern, explaining why she thought the numbers had increased.
“Another factor is
Jenkins said he hopes that by the 2020 Census, different-minded people will have been elected to statehouses across the country and will begin to address discriminatory policies perceived as directed toward the gay community.
“(The new lawmakers) are going to call them what they are, ‘mean-spirited and harmful for the state of Oklahoma,' and they're going to vote legislation in that makes sure all of our citizens are respected.”