News Family

Being Counted: New Census Data on Same-Sex Couples

Martha Kempner

The U.S. Census Bureau has been releasing data since June that shows how many same-sex couples there are and where they living. 

Last fall, my daughter and I were in a diner seated next to the son and partner of an old friend of mine who I had run into just a few weeks earlier after over 15 years.  When his partner and I started talking, Charlie asked who he was, and I was at a loss for an introduction — mostly because I could not, for the life of me, remember his name.  So I just said, “I went to college with Liam’s other daddy.” Then I waited for Charlie to say something about that concept and hoped it wouldn’t be too embarrassing, but she didn’t even blink. Once again, I was thankful that we had chosen to live in this community where having two daddies like Liam or two mommies like her friend Sophie seems perfectly normal. 

Still, while same-sex couples seem commonplace in our town, according to data that the U.S. Census Bureau has been releasing since June, Maplewood does not, in fact, rank among the top cities or towns in the United States with the most same-sex couples per capita. Though, four New Jersey towns did make the national lists: Jersey City (with 14 same-sex couples per 1,000 households) was on the list of mid-size cities, and Ocean Grove (45), Lambertville (44), and Asbury Park (42) made the list for small cities. 

Nationwide, some of the cities and towns on the lists are expected such as Provincetown, MA (163), New Hope, PA (54), and San Francisco, CA (33); all long-known as gay-friendly communities. Others, such as Salt Lake City, UT (17) and Birmingham, AL (11) seem less obvious. (New York City, one of the birthplaces of the gay rights movement, did not make the list because it is too large to rank per capita – but Manhattan ranked 5th as a county.) 

The households were identified through data from the 2010 census where: “Person 1 describes his or her relationship with another adult of the same sex as either ‘husband/wife’ or ‘unmarried partner.’”  The data was analyzed by the Williams Institute which determined an adjusted number based on: “the likelihood that a small portion of different-sex married couples miscode the sex of a spouse and are incorrectly counted as a same-sex couple and the possibility that some same-sex couples may not be counted in Census tabulations due to concerns about confidentiality or because neither partner was Person 1 in the household.”

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The Census first started asking about same-sex partnerships in 1990, and 2000 marked the first time that it allowed: “same-sex couples who described themselves as husbands or wives to be counted as same-sex couples. But those responses were ultimately counted as unmarried partners, because marriage for same-sex couples wasn’t legal in any states then.” 

Many advocates for LGBT rights and marriage equality say that getting a baseline count of same-sex couples will help their efforts. Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for Human Rights Campaign explains:

“This helps us better quantify the economic harm to same-sex couples and how many people are affected by decisions to deny them the rights and benefits of marriage, especially those associated with federal law.” 

Others, however, caution that by only counting same-sex couples, the Census is not providing an accurate estimate of how many LGBT individuals there are in the United States.  Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters argues:

“… from a political perspective, until they agree to count the LBGT community in its entirety, I’m not going to be satisfied. The country is involved in a very important policy debate about extending rights and responsibilities to gay Americans and in the context of that debate, it is important to know how many people we’re talking about.”

Additional national data will be released in November.  What has been released so far suggests that there are 901,997 same-sex couples in the United States which means that there are 7.7 same-sex couples per 1,000 households nationwide.  Of those 60 percent are female couples, 40 percent are male, and 22 percent are raising children. Some of them, thankfully, right here in Maplewood. 

News LGBTQ

Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis Defies Court Order on Same-Sex Marriage

Imani Gandy

In a one-sentence order issued Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who had sought relief from the high court to protect her from having to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County.

In a one-sentence order issued Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who had sought relief from the high court to protect her from having to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County.

Davis, as of Tuesday afternoon, has refused to comply with the order, citing “God’s authority.”

The scene at the Rowan County courthouse this morning was tense, with media from across the state in attendance. Protesters gathered, chanting “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Kim Davis has got to go!” Groups supporting Davis prayed outside the courthouse and told couples that they should go to another county to get a license, per Dan Griffin, a reporter for WSAZ-TV.

A deputy told two couples—David Ermold and David Moore, and plaintiffs April Miller and Karen Roberts—that no licenses would be issued today while Davis remained in her office with the blinds drawn, according to the New York Times. Davis later came out of her office to inform the couples that she would not be issuing any licenses and asked them to leave. David Moore and his partner David Ermold refused to leave the clerk’s office without a license, and told Davis to call the police if she wanted them to leave.

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“Well, you’re going to have a long day,” Davis responded.

Davis, an apostolic Christian who opposes same-sex marriage as a matter of faith, said that the Rowan County Clerk’s Office would no longer issue marriage licenses to any couples within hours of the Supreme Court’s June 27 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. By refusing to issue marriage licenses, Davis believed she could avoid accusations that she was discriminating against same-sex couples.

That day, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told county clerks that Kentucky would recognize all same-sex marriages as valid. His directive required Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses. Beshear further stated that county clerks opposed to the same-sex marriage ruling could either fulfill their duties as prescribed by law or resign and let someone else step in and fulfill those duties.

Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses or to step down from her position, claiming that she has worked at the Rowan County clerk’s office for nearly 30 years and that she swore an oath to support the constitutions and laws of the United States and Kentucky, which she understood to mean that she would not act in contradiction to the moral law of God.

She claimed that at the time she swore the oath, Kentucky’s marriage law aligned with her religious beliefs about marriage.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Davis in federal court on behalf of a group of plaintiffs—two same-sex and two opposite-sex couples—arguing that Davis’ “no marriage licenses” policy interfered with the plaintiffs’ right to marry because it prevents them from obtaining a license in their home county. Davis, in turn, filed a lawsuit against Beshear, a Democrat, arguing that she should be relieved from her obligation to issue marriage licenses due to her religious beliefs.

Both the district court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her, and blocked Davis from implementing her “no marriage licenses” policy.

Davis argued in a lower court that because plaintiffs could drive 30 minutes to an hour and obtain marriage licenses in any one of the seven neighboring counties that are issuing marriage licenses, her “no marriage licenses” posed only an incidental burden on plaintiffs’ right to marry.

Davis claimed that this incidental burden is justified by the need to protect her religious liberty.

The district court disagreed, pointing out that plaintiffs, who live, vote, and pay taxes in Rowan County, understandably would prefer to obtain marriage licenses in their own county. The court further pointed out that driving 30 minutes to an hour might pose a hardship for people living in rural Kentucky who do not have the means to travel.

The district court questioned why Rowan County residents should be required to obtain marriage licenses in neighboring counties. “The state has long entrusted county clerks with the task of issuing marriage licenses. It does not seem unreasonable for Plaintiffs, as Rowan County voters, to expect their elected official to perform her statutorily assigned duties. And yet, that is precisely what Davis is refusing to do.”

The district court rejected Davis’ free speech and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims.

The court disagreed that issuing marriage licenses constitutes speech. The marriage licensing form simply asks the clerk to certify that the information provided on the form is accurate and that the couple seeking the marriage license is qualified to marry under Kentucky law. The court found this to be a purely legal inquiry that has no bearing on Davis’ religious convictions and does not compel her to express a message to which she objects as a matter of faith, contrary to the First Amendment.

The district court found that this purely legal inquiry did not substantially burden Davis’ religious freedom under Kentucky’s RFRA law. Davis was simply being required to do her job and certify that couples meet the legal requirements to marry.

Affixing her signature to the marriage license did not mean she was condoning or endorsing same-sex marriage. The court said she was free to continue to disagree that same-sex marriage is marriage.

After the district court blocked Davis from implementing her “no marriage licenses” policy, Davis asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to relieve her from having to issue marriage licenses until that court had the opportunity to issue a ruling on her constitutional claims. In a three-page opinion, the Sixth Circuit bluntly denied Davis’ request:

In light of the binding holding of Obergefell, it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court.

Davis next petitioned the Supreme Court for relief, which the Court denied.

Davis is now required by law to begin issuing marriage licenses. Yet as of this morning, Davis has thus far refused, claiming that she has made the decision “under God’s authority.” Davis says that she is waiting for the Sixth Circuit to issue a final ruling on her appeal, according to WSAZ-TV.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court asking the district court judge to hold Davis in contempt of court and to impose financial penalties “sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous to compel Davis’s immediate compliance without further delay.”

A hearing on that issue is set for Thursday.

News Law and Policy

Lawsuit: Walmart Denied Health Insurance to Same-Sex Couples

Nina Liss-Schultz

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in January that Walmart likely had discriminated against a Massachusetts lesbian couple because of their gender.

Walmart workers this week filed a class action lawsuit against the retail giant, alleging that it discriminated against same-sex couples.

The suit, filed on behalf of Walmart employees by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, contends that the store’s policy of discrimination violates the federal Civil Rights Act.

GLAD has represented the primary plaintiff in the case, Jacqueline Cote, since last fall when it filed a charge of discrimination against Walmart with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. Cote, a Massachusetts resident and Walmart employee since the late 1990s, had tried for years to add her wife, Diana Smithson, to her employee-sponsored health insurance plan. But during each open enrollment period, when Cote logged into Walmart’s employee benefits website, she had to choose her spouse’s gender.

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“I would click ‘female,’ and it would tell me I could not proceed and I needed to call the home office [in Arkansas],” Cote told the Atlantic in an interview. Cote was denied by the company every year during open enrollment. Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and was forced to pay her medical bills with no private insurance.

Walmart changed its policy and began offering same-sex spousal benefits in 2014. But by that point, Smithson had racked up $100,000 in medical expenses.

The EEOC found in January that Walmart likely had discriminated against Cote and Smithson because of their gender. The agency also said that Cote had the right to sue the company, leading to the case filed on Tuesday.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States and had $16 billion in profits in 2013, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. A Forbes calculation estimates that the Walton family, which founded the company, have a net worth of $178.1 billion.

This is hardly the first time Walmart has found itself in legal trouble, as the retail giant was found guilty in December of intimidating workers.

National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge Geoffrey Carter found that a Walmart manager had illegally intimated workers by telling employees that co-workers returning from a one-day strike would have to look for a new job, as reported by the New York Times.

Carter also ruled, the Times continued, that one Walmart manager had engaged in unlawful intimidation when he told an Our Walmart supporter, who had a rope tied around his waist in order to pull a heavy load of merchandise, “If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck.”