Gay Marriages Triple After Four Years of Victories

Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, and one year after the justices told holdout states to do the same, droves of LGBT Americans are taking advantage of their new rights.

A Prudential Financial Inc. survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans has found that far fewer are single—and far more are married—than four years ago. While the drumbeat of coast-to-coast legalization was undoubtedly a driving force, the speed of this nationwide sprint to the altar has been remarkable, the study showed. Overall, 30 percent of LGBT respondents said they were married, up from 8 percent in 2012. That's more than triple.

“That was quite surprising to me, that it’s gone that fast, that quickly," said Kent Sluyter, Prudential’s chief executive of individual life insurance and Prudential Advisors. “You see a very accelerated change that was released by these major decisions.” The rush of gay marriages didn't happen all at once, though. In 2012, at the time of the first survey, nine states recognized same-sex marriage, while by 2015, when the high court legalized gay marriage nationwide, 36 states recognized gay unions.

The Prudential analysis also found that the percentage of LGBT respondents with children has jumped since 2012, from 23 percent to 36 percent for lesbians and from 7 percent to 15 percent for gay men.

The LGBT population is notoriously difficult to survey. It’s hard for pollsters to find a group that is just a fraction of the overall population and that has historically had reason to be discreet. Prudential surveyed 35,000 Americans online to find 1,376 people aged 25-70 who identify as LGBT. Those respondents ended up being far younger than in the 2012 survey: Some 47 percent were millennials aged 37 and younger. Bisexuals also made up a significantly bigger slice of the sample, at 52 percent, up from just 5 percent in 2012.

This suggests that young people and bisexuals are getting more comfortable identifying themselves as LGBT, at least to pollsters. Only 23 percent of bisexuals said they were “fully out,” compared with 57 percent of gay men and 58 percent of lesbians.

The Prudential study’s main focus was the “LGBT financial experience.” The Supreme Court's twin decisions simplified many aspects of financial planning for people in same-sex relationships. Even if legally married in their home states, LGBT couples used to face discrimination, as well as legal and financial headaches, when dealing with insurance, taxes, adoption, estate planning, Social Security, and retirement planning. The court solved many of these problems with its landmark rulings by forcing federal, state, and local governments to recognize same-sex unions.

The study comes less than two weeks after the shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub at which 49 people were killed, mostly young Latinos. The massacre cast a pall on LGBT Pride celebrations in New York, Chicago, and other cities this month, and it called attention to how gay and transgender Americans still face discrimination and violence despite a series of victories in courts, legislatures, and at the ballot box.

“The world is changing, and it’s changing faster than we thought it would,” said Glennda Testone, executive director of the LGBT Community Center in New York. “And not enough has changed quickly enough.”

Even on economic matters, Testone said, there’s progress to be made. Transgender individuals face very high poverty rates and overall, LGBT people earn less than heterosexual Americans, Prudential found. That’s consistent with other studies but it defies stereotypes based on a small subset of the LGBT community: wealthy gay men who live in urban areas. Prudential found gay men tend to earn more than lesbians, reflecting a gender wage gap in the broader labor market. The survey did show, however, that gay men still earn less than heterosexual men.

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