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Michigan census shows a major increase in same-sex households

Figures released by the Williams Institute in California show that the 2010 census was a banner year for self-reported same-sex couples in Michigan.

The census snapshot released by the LGBT legal research organization show that Michigan had a 42 percent increase statewide in the number of households reporting a same-sex partnership. That number translated into a real number of 21,782, or 5.6 per 100,000. Of those households, 21 percent, or just over 4,500 households, were raising children.

“This is a reminder that gay and lesbian citizens make up a significant portion of Michigan’s population,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, executive director of Equality Michigan. “Gay and lesbian residents live in every region of our state, yet lawmakers continue to ignore them. Our Representatives and Senators have grown increasingly hostile and have been working to deny gay and lesbian residents basic opportunities. Many of these couples live in fear of losing a job for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance, or losing access to health care because of anti-gay activists, or being targeted by hate violence. Lawmakers have a responsibility to address these problems and ensure that gay, lesbian and transgender citizens can safely participate in Michigan’s civic and economic life.”

But at least one prominent Republican says not so fast.

“I don’t think all those are same-sex couples. They are probably just friends,” said Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) is head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Jones said the news would have no impact on legislative priorities such as amending the state’s civil rights act, creating an anti-bias crime law, addressing bullying or even allowing for second parent adoption.

Kator says Jones is mistaken in his understanding of the census issues.

“He’s just wrong. He hasn’t looked at a census form,” says Kator. She notes that the form connected each person in the household to one person. This was accomplished with a list of options — including same-sex partnership. “I think to try to say that all the people who checked unmarried partners were somehow just friends or roommates is disingenuous and is an attempt to minimize the true numbers of people in our state willing to come out in a form from the government and identify as gay or lesbian.”

Kator says the numbers likely under report the number of unmarried same-sex households, in part because many people remain in the closet. The census in some instances send people door to door to gather the information. This in turn could have resulted in LGBT people having to out themselves to neighbors in very small, very rural and often hostile communities.

Democratic political consultant Joe DiSano says the numbers are important, and will play a role in pushing pro-equality measures in the state.

“In the next decade, you will ignore the needs of gay and lesbian voters at your own peril,” DiSano said. “Hopefully, these numbers will foretell a renaissance of gay and lesbian-friendly legislation. Of course, all that is predicated on breaking the chokehold the GOP has on state government.”

But he says the impact is unlikely to be immediate, particularly for second parent adoption legislation. The legislation would allow two people — an aunt and a grandmother, or two same-sex partners — jointly adopt children. This allows both custodial adults the legal ability to make decisions about the children that they are rearing.

But adoptions are coordinated by the Department of Human Services, which is headed up by former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan. While on the court, Corrigan used her authority to push Washtenaw county courts to stop authorizing second-parent adoptions. When the other judges challenged the order, the chief judge simply reassigned all the adoptions to himself.

“I don’t think the impact on second parent adoption laws is going to be very much,” DiSano says. “The Snyder campaign was very savvy in courting this block of voters and Maura Corrigan is blocking second parent adoption laws. Gay and lesbian supporters of Snyder’s should be making their voices heard loudly and clearly on this. The gay voters Snyder snuggled up to were played, plain and simple.”

DiSano does believe, however, that the census numbers are going to have an impact in the ongoing debate over partner benefits in the legislature.

“It shows that gay and lesbian households are now part of the mainstream here in Michigan,” he says. “Gay and lesbian voters are a force to be reckoned with on the domestic partner benefits issue and any other issue important to the community.”

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