June 26, 2013

How many same-sex marriages in the U.S.? At least 71,165, probably more

Today, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s key section, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages and denied same-sex couples who were married under state law a panoply of federal benefits — from favorable tax treatment to the ability to be buried together in veterans’ cemeteries — that are available to opposite-sex married couples.

Which got us wondering: How many same-sex marriages have there been in the United States since 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize them? Our best estimate: At least 71,165, but almost certainly more.

Gathering reliable figures on same-sex marriages turns out to be a lot trickier than one might think — largely because, as Justice Kennedy wrote in his DOMA opinion, “[b]y history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage…has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.”

Among other things, that means each state can decide how it collects and publishes marriage statistics. We were able to obtain figures from eight of the nine states that currently permit same-sex marriage. Maryland, where same-sex marriage became legal as of Jan. 1, has yet to compile figures on how many there have been; data from the District of Columbia, which legalized same-sex marriage effective March 2010, weren’t available. (Three more states — Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island — will begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses later this summer.)

Massachusetts, which has authorized same-sex marriages the longest, also has had the most: 22,406 through 2012. New York had at least 12,285 same-sex marriages in 2011 and 2012; Connecticut witnessed 5,759 from 2009 through 2011. Nearly 2,500 same-sex couples were married in Washington state between Dec. 6, 2012 and March 31 of this year. Maine, where same-sex marriages became legal on Dec. 29, had 428 through last week.

California presents a special case. Same-sex marriages there were performed from June 2008, when the state Supreme Court legalized them, until voters passed Proposition 8 that November, which inserted a ban in the state constitution. In the absence of any official state figures, we relied on an estimate by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute that 18,000 same-sex marriages took place in California during the four-and-a-half months they were legal; the state still recognizes those marriages. (The Supreme Court today also declined to rule on an appeal of a lower-court ruling invalidating Proposition 8, essentially clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in that state.)

But there almost certainly have been more U.S. same-sex marriages than the official records show, for several reasons.

First, there are significant lags in most of the states’ data. Many states have yet to compile marriage statistics for 2012, and only a few have counts for any part of 2013. New York City, which keeps marriage records separately from the rest of New York state, counted 7,184 same-sex marriages in the year after they were legalized in July 2011, but the city hasn’t released any figures since.

Also, some states no longer require couples applying for marriage licenses to designate their genders (asking for “Party A” and “Party B,” for instance, instead of “bride” and “groom”). In 2012, for instance, New York state’s preliminary marriage count (excluding New York City) was 50,899 opposite-sex couples, 2,865 same-sex couples, and 7,950 couples where the gender of at least one spouse was unknown. At least some of those unknown-gender couples likely are same-sex.

Some states, such as New Hampshire, that allowed same-sex couples to form civil unions automatically converted them into marriages after the law was changed. And none of the states include same-sex couples who were married overseas (in one of the 16 countries that permits such marriages in all or part of their territory), even though their marriages are recognized under state law.

In a brief filed earlier this year in the Supreme Court case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Williams Institute scholar Gary Gates used Census data to estimate that 114,100 same-sex couples in the United States are legally married, though that figure would include couples married overseas.

The growing availability of marriage to more U.S. same-sex couples has economic, as well as social and demographic, impacts. For instance, the Williams Institute estimated that within  three years after Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in late 2012, some 9,500 in-state same-sex couples would get married, spending an aggregate $88 million (in wedding arrangements and tourism expenditures by their guests) to do so.

Such analyses, though, rely on projections of how many same-sex couples will want to marry. In the Pew Research Center’s recent survey of LGBT Americans, similar percentages of unmarried gay men and lesbians (56% and 58%, respectively) said they would like to get married someday; 4% of gay men and 6% of lesbians said they were currently legally married (the report did not attempt to estimate the total LGBT population).

But the marriage figures to date suggest a somewhat different story: Lesbian couples accounted for over three-fifths of the more than 50,000 same-sex marriages that were identified by gender. In fact, female-female marriages outnumbered male-male marriages in every reporting jurisdiction except New York City.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Supreme Court

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

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10 Comments

  1. Taysia1 week ago

    The info was great quality. I am all for the gay couples and lesbian couples. I have been researching this topic for a very long period of time. This helped tremendously in my research. Thank you very much for writing this. Gays cannot help who they fall in love with and why they do fall in love with them. Below the for gays team posted. Now i do not have a facebook but i support them. Gays should be accepted for who they are not what they are. I believe in this and i will get my research done in a few short months or weeks and i will fight for gays.

    BEING WHO YOU ARE SHOULD NOT MAKE YOU FEEL ASHAMED. IF YOU ARE GAY THEN BE GAY IF YOU ARE NOT THEN SUPPORT THEM. SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE TODAY TOMORROW AND EVERYDAY ON!!!

    Reply
  2. For Gays Team3 months ago

    For Gays, has a Facebook page, We are hear as support to out coming gays. We try to help people know that they are just like everyone else.

    For Gays was started by 4 friends that are gay them self, I am one of them. We started the For Gays Facebook page to try to help people understand that we can not help who we are, and that sometimes we can not help that we a different then most people in this world…

    When we first started F.G we would get messages like, how do you tell your family that you are something that they have told you so many times that is wrong. Our answer is always the same. They are family and that family is the one group of people that should love you for who you are no matter what you chose to do with your life, or chose too sleep next to when you go to bed.

    We have asked them the same question, if you have a chose to get married would you… Just about all of them said yes they would.

    We try to answer every message, every email, It may not be in the same day but we do try to answer it in the best way we know how.

    You can feel free to come and find us on Facebook, Sipply type in For Gays, or email use at forgays@icloud.com

    Thank you,

    For Gays team

    Reply
  3. angel hayes3 months ago

    i feel that same sex marriage has the same equality as an opposite sex marriage because love knows no gender.it doesn’t matter if you like the same sex or opposite sex because you are human you have the right to be treated like one like an equal and not like a monster or like you are taken over by a demon because you like the same sex.same sex marriage is as much of a right as an opposite marriage.

    Reply
  4. Jill Barker4 months ago

    Have you attempted to update this, or will you do so soon? Thanks for the report.

    Reply
  5. Timothy Dobbins10 months ago

    I would like to know how Gays and Lesbians feel about being associated with bi-sexuals and trans-sexuals, which would seem to be an advantage in membership numbers only. To whom do B’s and T’s want to be wedded? What percentage of GLBT’s are B’s and T’s? Does the GLBT Alliance approve or disapprove of any other marriage arrangements? Is it deemed to be inappropriate or homophobic to ask these questions?

    Reply
  6. Alan Baker10 months ago

    It is my understanding that there are already suites filed challenging Section 2. Do you know of that is so?

    Reply
  7. Pete10 months ago

    Interesting numbers on the “If you could, would you like to get married some day”. Do you have similar statistics for heterosexuals?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Drew DeSilver10 months ago

      Sort of. It’s a bit of apples and oranges, or oranges and tangerines, since heterosexuals can get married already. A survey from 2010
      (pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/13/l…)
      asked all adults (not just heterosexuals) if they wanted to get married; of those who’d never been married, 61% said yes, 12% said no, and the rest weren’t sure.

      Reply
  8. Mark10 months ago

    My understanding is that all the act was not stricken. Just that part that deprived the s/s couples of federal benefits.

    Reply
    1. Drew DeSilver10 months ago

      Quite right, Mark — section 3, generally recognized as the core of DOMA, defined marriage for all purposes of federal law as being between one man and one woman only; that’s the provision the Court struck down. Section 2, which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states, wasn’t at issue in the Windsor case and so the Court didn’t address it. We’ll update the post accordingly.

      Reply