By JOHN SEEWER
TOLEDO, Ohio – The U.S. Census figures on Ohio households led by same-sex couples grew by more than 50 percent over the past decade, new numbers released last week show.
The 2010 census counted 28,600 same-sex partner households in Ohio, an increase of nearly 10,000 from the 2000 census.
Leaders of gay rights groups around the state said they don’t necessarily think more same-sex couples are living together. Instead, they said, more people are willing to talk about it.
“We have numerous donors who have been together 20 years, 50 years, 15 years, 20 years. The prevalence of gay relationships, I don’t see increasing,” said Jan Cline, executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland. “But the openness that people have in mainstream society to declare it is becoming easier and more comfortable for people to do.”
Still, it’s not always easy in Ohio, he said, pointing out that voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 against gay marriage.
The biggest jumps in same-sex households was in the Columbus area. Franklin County, which includes Columbus, had 5,132 same-sex households in 2010, a 58 percent increase.
Columbus has had a non-discrimination ordinance for years, and Columbus attorney Robert Eblin said the city has long been seen as friendly to gays and lesbians.
“As a gay person, I feel welcome almost everywhere I go in the city,” he said. “The truth is you can go to almost any restaurant or movie theater or festivals, anyplace that you can think of, with your partner or friends and feel comfortable and welcome.”
Eblin, 48, said the census is just catching up with reality in Ohio.
“The census, historically, didn’t ask those questions,” he said. “And I think that even when they started asking those questions, a lot of folks either didn’t feel comfortable answering that they were part of a couple or weren’t aware of how to respond to get counted.”
The head of a group that pushed for Ohio’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage said the numbers were inflated.
College students rooming together could be counted as same-sex couples, said Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values. “We can’t assume they are homosexuals,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer in an email.
Attitudes have changed in Ohio, said Ed Mullen, executive director of Equality Ohio, an advocacy group for gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“When I was a kid, if you were a same-sex couple, you moved to New York or San Francisco or someplace that you felt welcome,” he told The Columbus Dispatch. Now people don’t feel the need to, he said.