Older gay and lesbian couples struggle with the same retirement concerns as straight couples, but they fail to attain the same financial security, a new study by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign finds, The Boston Globe reported Friday. In more than 10% of all gay couples, at least one partner is 65 years old. Set to be released next week, the study is the first of its kind to break down 2000 Census data for senior gay couples.
"When a gay, lesbian, or bisexual senior dies, his or her surviving partner faces a financial loss that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars because the couple cannot be recognized as legally married in the United States," said the report, which was coauthored by Lisa Bennett of the Human Rights Campaign's FamilyNet project and Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Urban Institute, a research organization in Washington, D.C., the newspaper reported.
The report found that the highest numbers of same-sex senior couples live in Los Angeles and San Diego counties; Cook County, Ill.; the Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., boroughs; and Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, Fla. The highest concentrations of same-sex senior couples are in San Francisco and New York City.
Gates said there was a 300% increase in same-sex older couples between 1990 and 2000--from 145,130 unmarried partners in 1990 to 594,391 in 2000. It does not represent a true count of gays and lesbians in the population because single men and women are not included and many same-sex couples choose not to identify themselves as unmarried partners on a census form, she told the Globe.
"The public face of the gay and lesbian movement tends to be young, so this is an interesting focus on older couples," said Kathleen E. Hull, an University of Minnesota assistant professor of sociology who studies gay issues. "It's part of a bigger overall strategy by gay rights advocates to focus on real-life stories and the impact on real people's lives--that marriage is not purely a symbolic issue for the gay community, but there are tangible rights and benefits."
The Globe reported that married senior couples earn 4.3%, or $1,056, more in combined
household retirement income on average each year than same-sex couples, according to the analysis. Same-sex couples 65 and older earn an average of $7,354 each in Social Security income, while each spouse in a heterosexual couple earns an average of $7,770, the analysis indicates. Surviving partners in same-sex couples on average receive $5,528 less annually from Social Security than surviving spouses, the analysis indicates.