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State Won't Track Gay Marriage Numbers

On the first day of legal same-sex marriage, more than 465 same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses in 10 of the state's largest counties. But keeping track of how many licenses are issued over time may prove difficult.

Laura LeBoeuf and Angie Balmer at a ceremony at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage on June 26, 2015.

Correction appended. 

On the first day of legal same-sex marriage in Texas, more than 465 couples received licenses in 10 of the state's largest counties, according to numbers provided by clerk's offices.

But keeping track of how many Texans are issued licenses over time may prove difficult because the state, and some counties, do not plan to keep a separate count of same-sex licenses.

A survey of the state's 15 largest counties found that 10 began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Friday, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing it. (The remaining five counties were all issuing licenses by Monday.) It is unclear which county issued the most licenses to same-sex couples because several did not specifically track that.

Though Texas collects detailed data on marriages by county and age, getting better information on same-sex marriage rates in Texas could take years since the state has no plans to separately track those unions. Following Friday’s ruling, the Department of State Health Services released a new gender-neutral marriage application for counties to use. The application does not ask for the sex of either of the applicants.


“We are not specifically tracking those at this time,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the department. “The application asks for Applicant One and Applicant Two and currently does not ask for gender.”

States in which same-sex marriage was legal before Friday have taken different record-keeping approaches. Oregon, Vermont and Washington track marriage licenses specifically issued to same-sex couples. California and Florida simply track all marriages, and do not differentiate between same-sex and opposite-sex unions.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated in 2013 that there were 252,000 married same-sex couples in the country, but later said that was likely an overestimate, citing flawed data. A recent paper from a census researcher put the figure at closer to 170,000.

The patchwork of data collection means reliable numbers on how many same-sex couples are getting married in different states may not be available until the next census in 2020, said Drew DeSilver, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center who has researched the issue. 

“That's probably going to be the best way that anyone is going to have data on same-sex marriage by state because the states themselves, I strongly suspect, are not going to be interested in keeping track,” DeSilver said.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that 313 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in Travis County on Friday. There were 313 total marriage licenses, and a majority were for same-sex marriages.

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Politics State government Gay marriage Texas Legislature