High Court Case Brings out Data on Gays, Lesbians

Article excerpt

Byline: Carol Morello The Washington Post

A few salient facts are known about the Americans whose lives might be changed by a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage expected this summer.

About one in five gay and lesbian couples is raising children younger than 18. One in 10 men with a male partner or spouse is a military veteran. As many as 6 million Americans, roughly 2 percent of the population, have a parent who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

These nuggets of demographic insight into same-sex couples were contained in an amicus brief filed in connection with cases before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Californias gay marriage ban and the Defense of Marriage Act.

A decade ago, such precise statistics were impossible to come by. Even now, many of the numbers commonly used to shape government policies are, for gays and lesbians, nonexistent.

But as gays become more visible in politics, demographic research into lesbians and gays is emerging from the shadows. Some gay advocates say its time for surveys to ask people their sexual orientation point-blank.

"As a political and cultural issue, its very important for us to understand how big and visible this population is," said Gary Gates, a prominent demographer of gay statistics who wrote the amicus brief.

However the Supreme Court rules, demographic knowledge about gays and lesbians is poised to expand further.

The National Health Interview Survey of 35,000 Americans has started asking respondents their sexual orientation, aiming to identify health care needs. Last year, the federal government began putting a sexual orientation question in the annual workforce survey.

A Gallup poll last month found that 3.5 percent of American adults identify themselves as LGBT.

Gay activists say more research is needed, just to make the case that they exist.

"When our legislative affairs director goes into congressmens offices, theyre often told, I have no gay people in my district, " said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a civil-rights group urging protections for gays. "Thats why this demographic information is so incredibly important."

Yet gay activists have been some of the most vocal critics of Gates, who lives with his husband in Seattle and is affiliated with the Williams Institute, a UCLA School of Law think tank that researches sexual orientation and gender identity. They say his work showing that 3.8 percent of Americans are LGBT underestimates their numbers and marginalizes their concerns.

Some of the controversy is rooted in a 1940s-era study by sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who estimated 10 percent of men had had same-sex experiences. That figure has been cited often by gay activists, according to Gates, to make the case they could not be ignored.

Some opponents of gay marriage say more demographic research can correct misperceptions of the size of the gay community. Gallup has found that Americans believe, on average, that 25 percent of the population is gay, several times higher than any research estimate. …