Newlyweds Morgan Hayes and Lyndsay Rosenlund moved from Portland last month to a house in the Hough neighborhood to take advantage of Vancouver’s lower cost of living and close-knit community.
“Where we lived in southeast Portland, we were the only same-sex couple on the street,” Rosenlund said. “When we moved here, we met a lesbian couple across the street that adopted a baby and another lesbian couple next door.”
Hayes and Rosenlund, who had a wedding ceremony without a marriage license, are just a microcosm of rapid growth in the number of Clark County gay and lesbian couples counted in the 2010 Census.
The county’s number of households headed by gay and lesbian couples nearly doubled from 697 to 1,362 between 2000 and 2010, according to detailed state and county census data released Thursday. The growth outpaced that of the state and urban centers Multnomah and King counties.
“That’s an incredible amount of self-identification,” said state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who is openly gay. “I’m actually very pleased people are feeling comfortable enough to put that down as a committed relationship and to put it down on a census form. It really speaks volumes about how far we’ve come in the last 20 years.”
Eroding social stigmas have led to a greater willingness to report same-sex partnerships. That also has prompted more gays and lesbians to choose to live together and to move to suburban areas.
In addition, the state’s “everything-but-marriage” laws, the county’s repeated re-election of its openly gay state representative and a magazine’s unscientific ranking of Vancouver as the sixth most gay-friendly town in the nation may have all helped to ignite the boom in same-sex couples in the past decade.
Same-sex couples represent 1.4 percent of the county’s total 96,400 cohabiting couples, which includes both married and unmarried. Out of 1,392 same-sex partners, 790 couples were female, and 572 were male. About 712 of the couples had children younger than 18 living at home.
While the Census counted same-sex partners living together, it didn’t count how many people are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. For instance, Moeller wasn’t counted in the 2010 Census figures because he was no longer living with a partner.
The statistics also failed to identify same-sex partners if neither was head of a household, such as a couple living with a parent, said Gary Gates, Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law.
Nonetheless, the statistics are evidence of increasing social acceptance of gay and lesbian lifestyles nationwide, as upticks in the number of same-sex partners have been universal in all 36 states where the Census Bureau has released data so far. Data for the remainder of the states will be released by the end of August.
Clark County’s bounding growth may be a sign of increasing gay and lesbian suburbanization, said Joshua Friedes, marriage equality director at Seattle-based Equal Rights Washington.
“Gay and lesbian couples tended to live in urban centers because they felt safer and more accepted,” Friedes said. “As there has been more social acceptance, they’ve increasingly moved to the suburbs, so it’s not surprising seeing them move from Portland to Vancouver.”
Although same-sex marriage remains illegal under Washington law, the state leads the West Coast in gay and lesbian rights, Friedes said.
The state Legislature this year approved a measure to recognize same-sex unions from other states and nations. On Monday, the state’s Suquamish Tribe voted to give marriage rights to same-sex couples on its reservation near Seattle. The state also grants homosexual couples most of the rights that go along with matrimony.
The state’s domestic partnership laws prompt some same-sex couples to choose to live in Vancouver over Portland, said Corey Eubanks, a local real estate agent and planning committee member for Vancouver’s Saturday in the Park Pride festival.
“Gay and lesbian couples often choose to be in Vancouver because Washington has the closest thing to marriage equality on the West Coast,” Eubanks said.
The couples also moved to the county for the same reasons opposite-sex couples do, Moeller said.
“We live in a beautiful area. We are on the edge of a metropolitan area. Our taxes are lower than Oregon,” Moeller said. “So we are attractive in a lot of different ways.”
In January, The Advocate, a national gay-interest magazine in Los Angeles, ranked Vancouver as the sixth most gay-friendly town in the nation based on a collection of unscientific criteria, including six gay-friendly church congregations and the now-defunct Northbank gay bar.
Moeller said proximity to Portland, long known for welcoming gays and lesbians, has probably helped sow acceptance across the river.
Research, including a Gallup Poll in 2009, shows that heterosexuals who know gay and lesbian people are more likely to support same-sex marriage rights, Friedes said.
Vancouver couple Lisa Robbins and Anna Petruolo said since they started dating in 2005, they’ve noticed increasing acceptance of their relationship in the community. The couple now live together in a house they bought in Fruit Valley and plan to have a wedding in September, only without a marriage license.
On Tuesday, the couple held hands as they strolled through Esther Short Park to enjoy the sun after work. A few years ago, passers-by would occasionally insult them when they held hands in public, they said.
They try to stay involved in the community in order to give a positive impression of same-sex couples. For instance, they have a community garden where they interact with heterosexual couples and their families.
“We are involved in the community; we aren’t isolated,” Robbins said. “We participate in community events. We put ourselves out there as we are. That helps everyone.”
Hayes and Rosenlund from the Hough neighborhood said they hope the census figures will eventually help bring policy change, including the right to marry and adopt children nationwide.
They said they want to eventually either adopt or have children naturally and are concerned that if they ever move to another state, they might face legal challenges to custody of their children.