Nancy Polikoff

Have you heard of the Williams Institute? Read on....

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | July 23, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Gary Gates, research on LGBT families, US Census, Williams Institute

Ever wondered how many gay people there are in this country? How many of us have children? How much we earn? Where we live? Whether we receive public assistance?

Well, no one can give perfect answers to these questions. No large, reliable data source asks people their sexual orientation (and of course it's not clear that would reveal accurate information.) But there's an amazing amount of research that comes out of the Williams Institute, a think tank located at UCLA Law School, and none is more interesting that research based on the US Census.

The census doesn't ask sexual orientation, but it allows household members to identify as unmarried partners, and from that, coupled with the sex of each, it is possible to get information about same-sex couples. Gary Gates, the Institute's leading demographer, is also the author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, complete with color maps for every state and every county on the number of same-sex couples in the country, based on the 2000 Census.

Often Gary has unpublished research in the works. This morning I read a recent paper he coauthored with Adam Romero on same-sex couples raising children. Some facts from the paper: 40% of same-sex couples in Mississippi are raising children, the highest percentage in the country; African-American and Latina women in same-sex couples are twice as likely as white female couples to be raising a child; African-American and Latina men in same-sex couples are three times as likely as their white male counterparts; both male and female couples raising children have less income than married heterosexual couples and are more likely to have received public assistance than married heterosexual couples. A large portion of these children likely stem from previous heterosexual relationships. This research will appear as a chaper in a forthcoming book called Marriage and Family: Multiple Complexities and Perspectives to be published by Columbia University Press.

RIght now, the Williams Institute in leading the effort to get the 2010 US Census to count as married those couples legally married in Massachusetts and California. Astonishingly (or maybe not given this administration), the government says it can't do this because of DOMA. If anyone can convince them otherwise, it's the terrific folks at the Williams Institute.

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This is really interesting, Nancy. I've never heard of the Williams Institute before. I'll definitely have to check out the book you mentioned.

I hadn't either, Serena. I've got to find out more now. :)

John R. Selig | July 23, 2008 7:28 PM

For anybody interested in listening, I did a 2-part interview on my John Selig Outspoken podcast with Gary J. Gates, Ph.D who is the Senior Research Fellow at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of law back in January. Gary goes into detailed explanation about this important organization and reviews some of their research results. Each podcast is approximately 1 hour long.

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

The Williams Institute is a merger of two organizations, an LGBT demographics think-tank (Gates and Lee Badgett are the Ph.D.s - I forgot the name of the original organization) and an LGBT legal think-tank and educational organization at the UCLA School of Law. It's the go-to place for statistics about LGBTs and for current legal scholarship and legal reality for LGBTs. They run a yearly continuing legal education weekend about new facets of LGBT law, and probably have helped other law schools with curricula or information concerning LGBT legal issues. It is on my charity list, since I believe that research-oriented think-tanks like this provide the sorts of hard data that wavering legislators need to hear from those better-known advocacy groups like HRC, NGLTF, state level organisations, specialty organisations.

There have been several other institutions that have come out with the finding that same-sex couples of color are more likely to have kids, haven't there? I find that fact interesting.