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Same-sex couples increase 30 percent on LI

Barry Podgarsky, 56, left, and his partner, Gregg

Barry Podgarsky, 56, left, and his partner, Gregg Lhotsky, 47, outside the home the two share in East Patchogue. (July 13, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Joh Paraskevas

There's been a 30 percent jump in same-sex couples living on Long Island in the past decade, and the rate of gay and lesbian couples raising children is nearly twice the national average, new census figures show.

Same-sex couples can now be found in nearly every Long Island community, according to 2010 census data released Thursday.

The overall number of same-sex couples in Nassau and Suffolk counties increased from 5,885 in 2000 to 7,587 in 2010.

There are three times as many communities with 100 or more same-sex couples than a decade ago, with Long Beach, Freeport and Hempstead Village joined by Coram, Levittown, Brentwood, West Babylon, East Patchogue, Valley Stream Village and Huntington's downtown core.

 

Acceptance in suburbs

Experts believe the pace of same-sex couples settling on Long Island will pick up in coming years because of greater suburban tolerance and last month's passage of a state law legalizing same-sex marriage.

"This [census report] reflects that the gay and lesbian population is being integrated fully on Long Island," said David Kilmnick, chief executive of Long Island GLBT Services Network in Bay Shore. "There's not one place where gay people move to here -- and that makes Long Island unique."

Kilmnick predicted the number of same-sex couples will "spike much more" in New York, "now that marriage is legal."

Barry Podgorsky and Gregg Lhotsky, a middle-aged gay couple, moved to East Patchogue in 2005 from the Upper East Side to be closer to friends in the Bellport area.

In their Long Island community alone, the number of same-sex couples has doubled since 2000, according to the census.

"When we were looking at places, we were worried about bias, but it's proven to be welcoming wherever we've gone on Long Island," said Podgorsky, 56, an art adviser who works in his neighborhood.

The new data show 31 percent of Long Island's same-sex couples are raising children -- nearly twice the estimated rate nationally. In New York State, there were 65,000 same-sex couples in 2010, with 23.6 percent raising children.

In some communities, such as Hempstead Village, Massapequa and North Bay Shore, 50 percent or more of same-sex couples are raising children. Many of those children were born to one of the partners, rather than adopted, experts said.

On Long Island, the census found that female partners living together make up 59 percent of same-sex couples raising children. Overall, however, gay and lesbian pairs make up little more than 1 percent of Long Island's 604,000 households headed by couples.

 

LI's crossover appeal

The Island's traditional appeal of good schools and suburban lifestyles for generations of heterosexual couples seems to be attracting longtime gay and lesbian couples as well, said Gary Gates, a senior scholar at The Williams Institute at UCLA's School of Law in Los Angeles.

"We find in the last decade many same-sex couples living in less urban areas, even in politically conservative areas," Gates said. "Many of these are people who had children from earlier relationships and are now living with a partner of the same sex."

That's the case with Michael Burns and his partner, Michael Mearkle, who live together in Patchogue. Now in their 40s, they were previously married to women with whom they produced a total of five children.

"There's never been an issue for us living on Long Island," said Burns, convinced the census reflects "that people are more comfortable being themselves."

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