For the first time ever, the census counts same-sex couples and their children, and as data trickles out state by state, more gay families are being tallied in the South.
Just last week, reports from Hawaii and Alabama -- two very different states geographically and socially -- revealed that 27 and 23 percent of same-sex couples were raising children, respectively, according to an analysis by the Williams Institute, a UCLA School of Law think tank that focuses on lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender issues.
Data released today on five more states showed that 28 percent of families in Wyoming are raising children. In California, the percentage is 21 percent; Delaware, 19 percent; Kansas, 26 percent; and Pennsylvania, 20 percent.
The emerging profile of same-sex families comes just as New York legislators are poised to vote on a bill that could legalize gay marriage.
The controversial bill is one vote away from being passed and could make New York the sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Five other states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as the District of Columbia -- allow gay marriage. . Advocates say census counts matter in these political debates. They argue that the data is important for understanding their needs and forming policies in the best interest of their children.
"This is the first time it accurately reflects families that have always been there," said Stuart Gaffney, a spokesman for the gay rights group Marriage Equality USA.
"It's something we find out when they are lobbying in legislatures like Albany right now and reps say they don't have someone in their district who it matters to," he said. "That's why it's so critical to show we are in every state, every city and every county in the United States. There are constituents and they need to know we are here."
Statistics on the children of gay couples have previously been released at the state level, but never in a way that allowed demographers, legislators and gay rights advocates to glean a national picture.
Summaries look at each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and include detail down to the block or census tract level.
Same-sex couples are identified in households where Person 1 describes his or her relationship with another adult of the same sex as either a "husband/wife" or "unmarried partner."
New York, according to the census data, has 42,000 sax-sex couples raising 14,000 children. In Hawaii same-sex couples -- 4,248 in all -- represent about 9.3 out of every 1,000 households, according to the census. Of those, 976 families or 23 percent, are raising children.
In Alabama, there are 11,259 same-sex couples, representing 5.98 couples per 1,000 households in the state. Of those, 3,069 or 27 percent are raising children.
An estimated 42 percent of all heterosexual couples are raising children in Alabama and 42 percent in Hawaii, according to the census.
Hawaii has a substantially larger concentration of same-sex households, but child-rearing by these couples is higher in Alabama.
Higher rates of child-rearing by gay couples is also seen in rural states like Wyoming (28 percent) and Kansas (26 percent).
"Those patterns are not new," said Gary J. Gates, a Williams Institute demographer who analyzed the data.
"Same-sex couples who live in places with relatively high concentrations of same-sex couples tend to be less likely than other same-sex couples to be raising children," he said. "Child-rearing among same-sex couples is more common in conservative states like Alabama than in more liberal states like Hawaii."
Same-sex marriage is not legal in either state. In February, Hawaii passed a legislation allowing civil unions.
In his analysis, Gates adjusted official census figures to account for different-sex couples who "inadvertently miscoded" the sex of a spouse and appeared to be same-sex couples in the data.
This is not the first time the U.S. Census has tabulated same-sex couples -- they did it in 1990 and again in 2000 and 2010.
Since 2000, those who identify as "unmarried partners" and others who identify as same-sex "spouses" are lumped in the same category by the census.
In November, the census will separate out the two categories -- partners and spouses -- and give a first official count of those who identify themselves as husband or wife.
4 Percent of Americans Are Gay
An April report by the Williams Institute revealed that an estimated 4 percent of Americans are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender.
Their analysis of 2000 Census data suggested that more than 250,000 children in the United States are being raised by lesbian and gay parents.
The census only asks whether a couple (same-sex or different-sex) have children, counting only the number of "householders with children" and not the actual size of the family.
"It has been consistent since we have been measuring this," said Gates. "If you want to guess the number of kids raised, look at the couples and double it. If they have kids, on average it's two."
Children under 18 include those who have been conceived by one partner or adopted, as well as children from prior relationships and "related" siblings or cousins.
Gates noted that the number of same-sex couples who are adopting has doubled, from 8 percent to 19 percent, even in states where they cannot legally marry, according to research by The New York Times.
Still, more than 80 percent of the children being raised by gay couples are not adopted, according to Gates. And the largest number of children in same-sex families are a result of previous heterosexual marriages.
The Alabama data reflects a growing trend: a large number of children being raised by gay families in the socially conservative southern states, according to the Williams Institute.
Gays and lesbians tend to come out later in life in communities where they are stigmatized, according to Gates. By then, partners may already have children from earlier heterosexual marriages.
Census numbers are only a snapshot of gay families and many more same-sex couples may exist uncounted by the government, say advocates.
Some gay couples may not want to identify as such because of concerns about risking confidentiality. They may call themselves roommates or unrelated adults.
Nonetheless, advocates say census data is important.
"I think this is critical new information and really goes back to beginning of the gay rights movement and Harvey Milk saying, 'Come out, come out, wherever you are,'" said advocate Gaffney, "It's the single most important thing you can do. Let the world know we are here."