The campaign for gay marriage in the United States is continuing to gain momentum in 2014 with new legislation extending the rights of the gay community and high profile boycotts of homophobic businesses. While there are many outspoken critics of these proposals, the voices of gay marriage and LGBT activists are now firmly in the public sphere – where they plan to stay. The movement for equal rights is now taking place at a local, state and national level. There’s still plenty of progress to be made; only 17 states currently permit gay marriage, while 29 have a ban on marriage between members of the same sex. It should be noted that those states that have already passed same sex marriage laws have much higher populations than those that have not.
Utah and Oklahoma have recently upheld the ban on gay marriage; if these states were to permit same sex marriages, then a total of 46% of Americans would live in a state that allowed for marriage between all consenting adult couples. The newest grey area in regards to gay marriage is Pennsylvania, whose laws are being challenged by a number of same sex couples in the state. If they, too, were to permit gay marriage, the percentage of Americans living in an equal-rights-for-all state would rise to 50% – a tipping point that would force the matter into a federal debate. A Washington Post-ABC news poll last month revealed that 59% of Americans are in favour of same sex marriage, an indicator that this is an issue which should be addressed at national level.
In light of this public debate, we’ve taken a look at the figures of people identifying themselves as gay in each state, and ranked them according to size. The social and cultural background to these states is important and the list gives a sense of which states are the most – and least – gay-friendly.
10. Washington: 209,670
The first to make our list, Washington state has for a long time had a healthy relationship with its gay community: the state and in particular the city of Seattle have a vibrant LGBT community. As well as gay districts, there are also LGBT and transgender film festivals held in Washington, and Seattle even has gay-friendly travel agents. The gay-friendly community is pretty long-standing here, but Washington was officially recognized as an equal-rights state when they passed laws allowing same sex couples to marry in 2012. The state is one of only three in the country that have passed same sex marriage laws by popular vote, becoming the first ever to do so on December 9th 2012. There are now over 19,000 same-sex couple households in the Washington.
9. Massachusetts: 247,247
Nestled in the liberal north east of the country, Massachusetts is another perhaps predictable entry on our list. That’s because the state was the first in America to legalise same sex marriage, all the way back in May 2004. Since then a number of states in the region have passed similar laws, making Massachusetts the ultimate LGBT advocate. With the state having a population of around 6.7 million, the LGBT community represents under 5% of the state’s population. Thanks no doubt in part to Massachusetts’ pioneering efforts for equal rights in the LGBT and transgender community, there are well over 20,200 same-sex couple households living in this state.
8. Pennsylvania: 262,308
For anyone familiar with the arguments surrounding the discussion of same sex marriage, it may seem surprising that Pennsylvania has such a large gay population. The state is the only one in the north eastern region not to recognise same sex marriage – but potentially not for long. Campaigners in Pennsylvania have taken their case to court to challenge the ban on gay marriage. With a trial date set for the end of May 2014, this is definitely one to watch, not only for gay marriage rights in the state pf Pennsylvania, but for the nation overall. If gay marriage was permitted in Pennsylvania, it would bring the number of Americans living in states permitting same sex marriage to over 50%. No doubt many of the 22,330 + same-sex couple households are particularly eager for equal rights to be won.
7. Georgia: 263,870
Another state in which there is no marriage or partnership provision for same sex couples, Georgia still has a large LGBT population. Atlanta, in particular, is known for its lively gay community. In terms of legality, Georgia’s gay community is being left behind: in 2004 the state passed a law defining marriage as only taking place between a man and a woman. At that time, 76% of Georgians voted in favour of a same sex marriage ban. This trend is similar to that of the majority of southern states. On a map of same sex marriage laws in the US, it’s pretty clear that Georgia, if it follows the trend of most of neighbouring states, isn’t planning on budging any time soon. It’s a bleak outlook for the 21,000 same-sex couple households in the state.
6. Ohio: 315,592
At the same time that Georgia passed a law defining marriage as only taking place between members of the opposite sex, so too did Ohio. While the state may have over 300,000 openly gay people living in its borders, the laws of the land exclude all these civilians – 3.6% of the population – from the basic right to marry. In February of this year, four same sex couples took their case to court to challenge the ban on gay marriage in Ohio, while LGBT rights groups such as Equality Ohio are active in the region. Another one to watch in the months ahead.
5. Illinois: 362,048
The 362,048 gay people living in Illinois are offered the same rights as everyone else in the state, thanks to the same sex marriage laws which were passed in November 2013 -making it the sixteenth state to pass such a law in the United States. Prior to this, civil partnerships were permitted between couples of the same sex. In the main city of Chicago, Gay Pride is a major celebration: as well as the conventional bars and social events, Chicago’s gay district – Boys Town – also has a network of support services for members of the LGBT community, as well as bookshops, cafes, and even an organic vegetable store!
4. Florida: 513,847
Florida, like her neighbour Georgia, does not permit gay marriage. However, with the state home to one of the nation’s most touristic cities, it seems there is some flexibility when it comes to openness towards the LGBT community. Miami is the home of spring break, sandy beaches and world-famous parties and as a result attracts a highly eclectic crowd. In addition to this, the movement to recognise same sex marriage in Florida has a lot of momentum behind it: the national campaign group Freedom to Marry is active in the state and estimates that there are approximately 48,496 same-sex couple households in Florida. In January of this year six same sex couples filed cases contesting the gay marriage ban in the state. On the other side of the fence, however, anti-gay marriage campaigners are also active, with Florida’s religious community a key voice in this debate.
3. New York: 570,388
With a vibrant multicultural and international population, it may seem surprising that there isn’t a larger gay community in this part of the United States. Gay marriage has been legal in New York State since 2011 with Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York a key advocate of the bill. Of course, it’s no surprise to hear that there is a prominent and vocal gay community in the region, but that does not mean there is complete tolerance in the state. Only last month, the city was in the international news for refusing to allow LGBT groups to participate in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day parade in the city. The parade’s sponsor, Irish brewing magnates Guinness, pulled out of the event in support of the LGBT community and the city’s Mayor along with numerous other officials boycotted the parade in protest. Dutch brewers Heineken also revoked their sponsorship of the New York parade.
2. Texas: 579,968
As one of the country’s largest states, Texas was always going to feature on the list, but this state has become an interesting player in the fight for marriage rights in the US: only last February a court in Texas ruled that a ban on same sex marriage has no “rational relation to a legitimate government purpose.” Given the state’s traditionally conservative stance and the ban that exists on gay marriage in all of the states bordering Texas, this is a bold statement. Since then the state has also made moves to protect LGBT inmates within the state’s prison system. No law has yet been signed to render same sex marriage official in the state, but the ruling last February is a solid move towards LGBT equality.
1. California: 1,338,164
With the city of San Francisco viewed by some as “the gay capital of the world,” it was only natural that the state of California would have the highest number of gay residents. There are well over 90,000 same sex couple households in California and gay marriage has been legal in the state of California since 2013; it was a long time coming. After a bill was passed in 2004 by the California Legislature to allow gay marriage, it was later vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A number of same sex couples had already married under the law at this stage. After a series of appeals, the bill was eventually passed into law, with San Francisco’s City Hall alive with colour this past February celebrating 10 years of gay marriage in the state. The gay community is a major part of San Francisco’s cultural life, and to a lesser extent Los Angeles, where the glitz, glamour and artistry of Hollywood has long had ties to the gay community. With everything from film festivals to support groups, California is definitely the number one place to be gay in America.
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