Statewide, 11,200 gay married couples filed joint tax returns for 2015 — and 83 percent of those couples were living in the Seattle area.
It’s been nearly three years since gay marriage became legal across the land, following a 2015 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling. And yet, no one knows exactly how many same-sex married couples there are in the U.S.
Marriages are not tracked at the federal level, and the Census Bureau is still hammering out improvements in how it measures same-sex-couple households.
Tax returns, as it turns out, might provide the best current estimate. And according to a new analysis of IRS data, the Seattle area ranks third in the nation for the rate of gay marriages.
There are about 9,300 gay married couples in the Seattle area, which pencils out to about 1.1 percent of all married couples, according to the study. The research was conducted by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., which is a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Researchers used tax returns for the 2015 calendar year, the first year that gay marriage was legal nationwide.
The report ranks the nation’s 100 largest “commuting zones,” which are similar to metropolitan areas. The only two of these commuting zones with a higher percentage of gay married couples than Seattle are both in California.
No. 1 is San Francisco, which you probably expected. No. 2 is Santa Rosa, which you probably did not. But the Sonoma County city is just about an hour north of San Francisco, and generally considered part of the Bay Area — so if you want to just say we rank second after San Francisco, that seems fair to me.
Boston and Portland round out the top five, in that order.
At the other end of the spectrum is Provo, Utah, which edged out Brownsville, Texas, for the lowest rate of same-sex married couples — Seattle’s rate is more than eight times higher.
Nationally, about 250,000 gay married couples filed joint tax returns in 2015. In terms of raw numbers, the New York City area had the most same-sex married couples, with about 13,900.
Washington legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, nearly three years before it became federal law. So we got a bit of a head start on most states.
And among the states, Washington ranks third, in a tie with Delaware. In both, gay married couples made up 0.85 percent of all married filers. Vermont and Massachusetts had the highest rate, just about one percent. North Dakota came in dead last, at around one-tenth of a percent.
No surprise here, but it was Seattle that propelled Washington to such a high ranking. The IRS data show that statewide, about 11,200 gay married couples filed joint tax returns for 2015, with about 9,300 of these couples — that’s 83 percent — living in the Seattle area.
The report shows gay people who are married have distinct demographic profiles from their straight counterparts. Both gay males and lesbians report higher incomes. They are younger and less likely to claim dependent children — that’s especially true of male couples. About 15 percent of gay marriages are interracial, more than twice the rate of opposite-sex marriages.
Gay couples tend to gravitate to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, the West Coast and New Mexico. The highest share of gay male same-sex filers are in major cities, while lesbian couples are more concentrated in smaller cities and towns. In Seattle, though, most gay married couples — about 55 percent — are lesbian.
Nationally, too, lesbian married couples outnumber their gay male counterparts, but the data show a wide range from place to place.
Among the nation’s largest commuting zones, Miami’s gay married couples are most likely to be male — 72 percent — while Eugene, Ore., is the most female, with 75 percent of the couples being lesbian.
The report includes data for a number of smaller geographic areas, including nine in Washington. After Seattle, Bellingham and Port Angeles tie for the highest percentage of same-sex married couples, at 0.8 percent. The lowest rate is in Moses Lake, at just 0.1 percent — they have a total of just 23 gay married couples
Washington is one of just two states (along with Hawaii) that publishes both its number of recorded gay marriages and the state of residence of the couples. That was useful for researchers because it allowed them to test their findings against some solid administrative records.
The outcome was pretty impressive: The report’s estimated number of same-sex married couples for Washington came within 0.3 percent of the state’s own record keeping.