Almost 30,000 same-sex couples live together in Georgia, according to data released Thursday from the 2010 Census, and more than 28 percent are raising children. The total numbers show a sharp increase from the 19,288 same-sex unmarried partners reported in the state in the 2000 Census.

The increase is likely due to a combination of better outreach and more lesbian and gay Georgians feeling safe to come out on the confidential form, according to Jeff Graham, executive director of statewide gay political group Georgia Equality.

"The Census Bureau and community organizations did a much better job in 2010 of conducting outreach to the LGBT community than in 2000, therefore more people knew how to respond and the importance of responding," noted Graham, whose organization joined in outreach efforts as the Census was underway last year.

In addition, "as acceptance of our families has grown, more people are willing to stand up and be counted," Graham said. "As more data is collected on the LGBT community in general, the more accurate and comprehensive that data will be."

The federal government conducts a full Census every 10 years. The 2010 Census did not ask respondents to indicate their sexual orientation, so it can't be used to count single gay people.

Census: Close to 30,000 same-sex couples live together in Ga.

However, the Census did allow respondents to indicate if they live with a “unmarried partner” or “spouse” and then indicate the sex of that person. Those answers are used to tabulate the number of same-sex couple households.

The 2010 Census counted a total of 211,834 unmarried partner households in Georgia — the vast majority being male-female households. But the total included 14,573 male householders living with male partners and 15,271 female-female unmarried partner households — a total of 29,844 same-sex couple households.

Besides the overall increase in reported same-sex unmarried partner households, the fact that there are more female-female households is a change from the last Census.

The 2000 Census showed a total of 145,743 unmarried partner households, including 10,251 male-male households and 9,037 female-female households.

For the data released Thursday, numbers for same-sex “spouses” were combined with “unmarried partners.” In the upcoming months, the Census will release data specifically on same-sex spouses. It will also release data on unmarried partners broken down by race, income and other demographic factors.

All of the data will become another tool that activists can use in the fight for equality for lesbian and gay Georgians, Graham said.

“Anytime we can present concrete data on our community that has been produced or verified through independent sources, it ads power and legitimacy to our efforts,” he said.

Graham noted that being able to show how many people are affected by policies such as the state’s ban on gay marriage can help in combatting similar efforts in the future.

“Using data such as this, we can clearly show that tens of thousands of people are affected,” Graham said. “The numbers alone will not win us our equality, but they do offer us yet another tool for advancing our issues.

More female couples raising kids

In Georgia, female unmarried partners only slightly outnumber male couples, but are much more likely to be raising children: Some 5,479 female partners reported living with related children under 18 years of age. Of male-male households, 2,977 reported living with related kids under age 18.

The parenting numbers are also an increase over the 2000 Census. In that Census, approximately 20 percent of same-sex unmarried partner households in Georgia were raising children. The 2011 numbers show approximately 28.3 percent of same-sex partner households in the state raising children.

As the Census rolls out data at the rate of a few states per week, trends are emerging. States like Georgia that are perceived as more conservative on gay issues show more same-sex couples raising children, noted Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a think tank on LGBT issues that conducts extensive analysis of Census numbers.

While more lesbian and gay couples are choosing to have children than ever before, Gates believes many of the children reflected in the Census numbers were conceived in previous opposite-sex relationships.

“A large portion of individuals in same-sex couples who are raising children had their children with a different-sex partner when they were young and likely before they were out,” Gates said.

“This scenario is more common in conservative areas where LGBT people come out later in life and are more likely to have had a child earlier in life.”

Conservative states like Georgia are also seeing the largest increases in total reported same-sex couple households between the 2000 and 2010 Census surveys. The spike is likely due to people feeling increasingly safe to come out on the Census, rather than to more gay people forming relationships or moving to Georgia, he said.

“Increases have tended to be higher in more conservative states as they likely have bigger portions of same-sex couples who were unwilling to report themselves in 2000 when compared to more socially liberal states,” Gates noted. “As social stigma has declined, these areas have shown the largest increases.

Same-sex couples undercounted?

While the data on same-sex couples in the 2010 Census will prove valuable both to scholars like Gates and activists like Georgia Equality’s Graham, both caution that they are not a completely accurate tally of all gay couples in the state.

First, gay couples who do not live together are not counted. In addition, the Williams Institute notes, gay couples where neither partner is the “householder” — such as a young gay couple living with one partner’s parents — also aren’t counted.

After the 2010 Census, the Williams Institute conducted a survey of gay couples that showed about 15 percent did not identify themselves in ways that would be reflected in the Census data.

LGBT activists also hope that by the time the federal government conducts the next full Census in 2020, it will collect data on sexual orientation so that single gay people can be counted too.

“I hope that the 2020 census does include questions that will help us all better understand how many people are affected by discriminatory laws and adding sexual orientation is one way to do that,” Georgia Equality’s Graham said. “Asking questions about gender identity would also be an important addition to future censuses and community surveys.”