California's gay and lesbian households represent a more traditional lifestyle than is often recognized in the national debate over gay marriage, according to a San Jose Mercury News analysis of census data. More than half of gay and lesbian couples own their own home, and as many as a third raise children. Gay and lesbian households also tend to be headed by partners who are better educated and more affluent than heterosexual Californians.
The 2000 Census shows that as state residents, gay and lesbian couples are by most measures squarely in the California mainstream. Same-sex couples have slightly higher incomes than heterosexual couples, and more than two thirds earned at least $45,000 a year. One reason for the difference is that gay men and lesbians tend to be better educated. In more than half of gay and lesbian households one partner has at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 37% of unmarried heterosexual couples and 40% of those who are married.
Santa Cruz couple Tara Crowley and Nicole Rinaldi are among the 29% of the state's gay and lesbian households that have children under 18 at home. They are raising two daughters. "This is the good life I always imagined I'd have when I was a single mom," Crowley told the Mercury News on Thursday. "I don't need to censor myself in any way."
But same-sex couples like Rich and Michael Butler are less affluent than they may seem because they don't enjoy the tax write-offs or Social Security benefits married couples do. Rich and Michael bought a 4,000-square-foot home in San Jose, and three years later, Michael, 37, a former information technology manager, quit working to stay at home to raise the couple's adopted daughter, Emily. "It's very important to us to have a stay-at-home parent, so we're doing what other couples do," Michael Butler told the paper on Thursday.