Chimney Sweep

Census statistics present quarter of California same-sex {couples} elevating youngsters – East Bay Instances

WALNUT CREEK – As Cheryl Dumesnil and Tracie Vickers prepared for their wedding a decade ago, they thought about living in San Francisco, where other gay and lesbian families would surround them, or retreating to the suburbs where they grew up were.

Their choice of central Contra Costa County made them pioneers, the first two-mother family in their leafy Walnut Creek neighborhood.

“This is Tracie's suburban dream,” Dumesnil said Tuesday at their ranch house, as the couple's 6-year-old son, Brennan, quietly read a book and 4-year-old Kian marched around the kitchen, a singing troubadour playing a white guitar Guitar. Neighbors welcomed this family with cookies and open arms.

“After saying I would never move to the suburbs again, here I am,” Dumesnil said.

The family of four is among nearly 1 percent of California households – about 126,000 households – headed by same-sex couples, according to 2010 Census statistics released Thursday. If the numbers are accurate, they show that nearly a quarter of same-sex couples in California are raising children.

While San Francisco remains a gay hub – the city has more than 10,000 gay and lesbian couples, compared to fewer than 300 in Walnut Creek – the census found same-sex couples in every corner of the state, making it clear that Same-sex couples in many parts of the state, suburban and rural areas have far higher chances of having children.

“We are not just a special interest group concentrated in large urban centers,” Dumesnil said. “We’re basically everywhere, just trying to live a legally protected and fulfilling life.”

Fifteen years after the federal Defense of Marriage Act banned gay marriage and seven years after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defiantly ordered licenses to be granted to same-sex couples, gay and lesbian families remain at odds political crosshairs, but also say that society is increasingly at risk. I'm getting used to having them – and their children – with us. In turn, whether they have been previously counted or not, more same-sex couples are aware of identifying themselves on census forms.

Demographers warn that the numbers may overcount same-sex couples because opposite-sex couples miscoded each other in a confusing way. The errors are compounded because there are far more opposite-sex couples than same-sex couples.

Gay and lesbian couples are identified in the census when the head of the household reports living with a “husband” or “unmarried partner” of the same sex. Changes in the way the Census Bureau counts same-sex couples make it difficult to accurately compare with the 2000 census, when the count found more than 92,000 same-sex couples in California.
However, it is clear that the number of open same-sex couples nationwide has increased significantly over the last decade.

“We have evidence that over time, more and more people are willing to report (same-sex unions),” said demographer Gary Gates of UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law. “We saw that these increases were the largest outside of well-known gay neighborhoods. I expect these increases would be larger in the Central Valley than in San Francisco.”

Same-sex couples in suburban and rural areas are far more likely to be raising children than their urban counterparts. National studies show that about 19 percent of children of same-sex couples are adopted, Gates said. Many more are children from previous heterosexual relationships.

“This type of pattern is much more common in conservative areas where people come out later in life,” Gates said. “The further you get from San Francisco, the greater the proportion of same-sex couples raising children.”

For some same-sex couples, life in the outskirts of the Bay Area still seems like living on a cultural frontier.

The census counted 138 gay male couples in Antioch last year and found that 30 percent of them have children. However, partners Joe Horacek and Jonathan Lee only know one other family like them, who lives on the other side of town.

The family moved from South San Francisco to Antioch in 2004 because they wanted a larger, cheaper home to raise their three adopted children. Horacek and Lee were among about 18,000 same-sex couples who married for six months in 2008, when gay marriage was legal in the state, before voters passed Proposition 8. Life in Antioch was simpler when the children were small; Her oldest children, 14 and 13, now struggle to fit in in a community where two fathers are a rarity.

“My son encountered some negative reactions from kids on Facebook,” said Horacek, a local teacher. “We don’t want to be the ones putting the targets on their backs. All children get teased about something, but usually it has to do with themselves. We add that additional liability for customization.”

Hosts who greet the family of five at local restaurants sometimes mistake them for two separate parties. Because her 9-year-old daughter doesn't have a mother, a school principal recently asked if she could play the role for a Mother's Day tea. Usually polite conversation smooths over an adult's confusion, but the couple sometimes wonders if life would be easier for their children on the other side of the East Bay hills.

“For the most part, no one has questioned us or given us any problems, but there is more assumption here that the children have both a mother and a father,” Horacek said. “I know that, particularly in places like Berkeley and Alameda County, conversations about different types of families and same-sex relationships are part of the curriculum. That’s not necessarily the case out here.”

Three percent of households in San Francisco and just over two percent of households in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville are headed by same-sex couples, making these Bay Area cities with the highest concentrations of gay and lesbian partners. Other East Bay cities are close behind, and most of the neighborhoods outside of San Francisco with the census-highest number of same-sex couples are along the East Oakland foothills.

Same-sex couples from the East Bay are also more likely to have children than couples from San Francisco, although the same is true for heterosexual couples as well. Just over 4 percent of gay male couples in San Francisco and 19 percent of lesbian couples have children, compared to 11 percent of gay male couples and 22 percent of lesbian couples in Oakland.

Maya Scott-Chung and her multi-ethnic family also chose the East Bay because she found it more diverse.

“It wasn't just because we could afford to buy a house here, although that was part of it,” said Scott-Chung, who lives with her transgender partner and daughter in Oakland's San Antonio neighborhood . “It is important to us to live in Oakland because it is one of the most culturally, linguistically and economically diverse places in the Bay Area and probably the world. There are a large number of lesbian and two-mother families here.”

Nationally, lesbian partners are more likely to raise children than gay men – 32 percent of lesbian households have children, compared to 17.8 percent of gay male couples. Horacek said being a minority among minorities in a place like Antioch can be exciting and a little scary.

“Obviously gays have been in relationships for centuries, but this appears to be the first generation where this is happening in large numbers, particularly through the addition of children into the family,” he said. “We sometimes feel like we are soldiers at the front. Change is happening, but it’s still not mainstream here.”

Dumesnil said she and her wife have seen perceptions in Walnut Creek slowly change as they interacted with straight families at school events and in their neighborhood.

“Someone has to be out here,” she said. “In a way, the presence of the children was the great equalizer.”

Cities in the Bay Area with
the highest percentage
of same-sex couples

Guerneville: 7.6 percent of all households are headed by same-sex couples (176 same-sex couples)
San Francisco: 3 percent (10,384)
Oakland: 2.2 percent (3,442)
Emeryville: 2.1 percent (119)
Berkeley: 2.1 percent (961)
El Cerrito: 1.9 percent (189)
Pacifica: 1.7 percent (237)
Albany: 1.7 percent (123)
Alameda: 1.5 percent (459)
San Rafael: 1.3 percent (301)
Vallejo: 1.2 percent (497)
Santa Rosa: 1.2 percent (757)
Richmond: 1.2 percent (427)
Concord: 1.2 percent (512)
Pleasant Hill: 1.1 percent (152)
San Leandro: 1.1 percent (326)

nationwide household figures

Households headed by
Man-woman couples

Households headed by unmarried partners of different genders
1 %
Households headed by
same-sex partners

Resident does not live with us
a spouse or unmarried partner

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