The number of Missouri households led by same-sex couples increased by more than 60 percent over the past decade, and almost one-quarter of those homes now include children, according to figures released late Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the more than 15,000 households reported to be led by same-sex partners in Missouri, slightly more than 7,000 were led by male partners and 8,200 were led by female partners, according to the figures. A decade ago, in the 2000 census, about 4,700 each of male and female same-sex households were reported in Missouri.
PROMO, a statewide organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, said the reported increase does not necessarily mean there are more same-sex couples. It also could suggest people are more comfortable identifying themselves as part of a same-sex household, the group contends.
"It's becoming more and more safe to talk about it and come out and tell your story and talk about your partner, as opposed to saying that you are single or saying that you have an opposite sex partner and lying about it," said Stephanie Perkins, the deputy director for PROMO.
The vast majority of same-sex households were in or near some of Missouri's largest cities, including St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia.
The largest number of same-sex households was in Jackson County, which had more than a thousand each of male and female same-sex households. Some of Missouri's sparsely populated rural counties reported just a few, though every county had at least some.
Among Missouri's neighbors for which figures have been released, Oklahoma and Kentucky had a larger growth rate in the number of same-sex households. Increases in the number of same-sex households in Nebraska and Kansas were less than Missouri's.
In 2004, Missouri voters approved a state constitutional amendment stating that marriage was limited to a man and a woman. It was the first state to vote on a same-sex marriage amendment after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay couples had the legal right to marry in that state.
Kerry Messer, with the Missouri Family Network and a supporter of the 2004 constitutional amendment, said there probably has been an increase in the number of same-sex households during the past 10 years but that the reported increase seemed inflated by other factors. He said he doubted the population changes would significantly affect Missouri policies.
"I believe the true number is a fraction. I do not believe it is an increase that is of any threat or significance," Messer said.
Perkins said growth in the number of same-sex households could help to make it easier to get elected officials and other leaders to address their issues.
Advocates said several Missouri communities have set up domestic partner registries and adopted policies to ban discrimination. PROMO said that Olivette in St. Louis County earlier this week approved an ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and set up a domestic partner registry that allows people to make their relationship part of the record and could assist with visitation in health care facilities.