Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Census shows significant increase in TN same-sex couples

The most recent round of data from the Census reveals a significant increase in the number of same-sex couples in Tennessee. This post is just a quick look. Number crunchers will dig deeper over the next few weeks, and we'll try to make any analysis available when we receive it.

The numbers: A Williams Institute "Census Snapshot" for Tennessee notes 16,322 same-sex couples in the state based on the 2010 data. Williams Institute analysis of the 2000 census showed 10,189 same-sex couples in 2000 and 13,570 in 2005. County-by-county information is not yet included in the 2010 snapshot, but we can compare a few numbers. 1659 same-sex couples lived in Davidson County in 2000, but the number had almost doubled to 3038 by 2010. The increase was also significant for Knox County with 857 in 2000 rising to 1420 in 2010. Rutherford County's numbers more than doubled from 305 in 2000 to 710 in 2010.

Reason for increase: It's hard to know precisely why the numbers increased. Part of the reason is clearly the rise in Tennessee's population in general. Another reason is, no doubt, the fact that couples feel more comfortable revealing their relationships to government data collectors.

Discrimination: It's interesting that the numbers increased at these levels considering the setbacks that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community has faced in Tennessee over the last ten years. In 2003 Metro Nashville failed to pass a proposed non-discrimination ordinance, a deficit that wasn't remedied until 2009. Other cities such as Memphis have faced similar struggles in passing protective ordinances. In 2006 voters passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only the union of one man and one woman with an 81% majority. But GLBT people are like everyone else in the sense that jobs, family ties, and networks of friends draw them to or keep them in certain areas regardless of the legal climate.

Policy implications: I've said it before, but Tennessee's demographics and lack of inclusive laws are on a collision course. Tennessee is increasingly home to many same-sex couples who live in every county despite the fact that state government and no local government in the state recognizes their relationships. Some couples are fortunate that both partners are afforded health insurance by their jobs or that one partner works for a private employer such as Vanderbilt University or AT&T providing partner benefits. Marriage equality, the real, lasting solution for couples who would like to take advantage of it, is probably a long way off in Tennessee and dependent upon future court challenges. In the mean time, measures that may have a chance of advancing in some local governments and public universities include partner health insurance benefits for their own employees. Currently no public entity in Tennessee provides partner health insurances benefits for its employees. And that is to say nothing of the hundreds of other benefits and responsibilities that come automatically with marriage.

The years ahead will be rough as this tension plays out. Our hope is that the numbers will help generate more movement on relationship recognition in Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders

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