The number of same-sex couples grew by 58 percent in Hamilton County over the last decade and one California group has named Red Bank one of the top cities in Tennessee for single-gender pairs.

Data from the 2010 census show gay couples make up less than 1 percent of the population in the eight-county area surrounding Chattanooga.

But the numbers are on the rise, particularly among all-female households. Nearly 1,900 households in the region claimed to be single-sex partners on the census, up from 1,200 in 2000.

And Gary Gates, a scholar at the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, said the real numbers are probably much higher. He said many couples might be hesitant to check the box because of social stigma.

"There [is] certainly a smaller percentage that are willing to identify themselves," he said.

Gates and other researchers at the institute studied the census data about same-sex couples and found one prevailing theme.

"The truth is, same-sex couples are living all across the United States," he said.

Growing numbers

The census showed the number of female couples nearly doubled in the region, compared with a smaller increase among men. The region includes Hamilton, Bradley, Rhea, Marion, Catoosa, Walker, Dade and Whitfield counties.

The institute study named Red Bank the No. 4 city in Tennessee in the number of same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The city trails Nashville, Knoxville and Shelbyville.

Red Bank has 50 same-sex couples, based on the institute's adjusted figures. That translates to 9.28 per 1,000 households, or nearly one out of every 100.

No cities in Northwest Georgia or Northeast Alabama were ranked.

"Particularly among smaller cities, the data reflects that the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community has dispersed beyond traditional enclaves as social stigma eases, couples are more comfortable coming out, and a generation of aging and out same-sex couples begin to retire," Gates wrote in the report.

What's it mean?

Tom Buchanan, head of the sociology department for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the numbers for Red Bank are probably a product of a small number skewing results in a relatively small population.

"Even though they've ranked it fourth on the list, we're talking about very small numbers," he said.

He said that, statistically, same-sex female couples make less money than all-male or traditional households, so Red Bank's low taxes and affordable housing could be drawing them there.

"It's easier to afford a house in Red Bank," he said.

Doug Bachtel, a demographics expert at the University of Georgia, said homosexual couples follow some of the same social patterns as racial minorities. One couple moves to an area and, if they find tolerant neighbors and other amenities they are looking for, word gets around.

"They'd say, 'If you're looking for a place to live, why don't you come on down?'" Bachtel said. "Their friends move in and the friends of their friends move in."

Nationwide 901,997 same-sex couples were counted in the census, and such couples were represented in 99 percent of U.S. counties, according to the Williams Institute. For the most part, same-sex couples are most common in major cities. Atlanta is ranked as one of the top cities in the nation, according to the Williams institute.

Bachtel said that probably won't change until same-sex couples feel comfortable in more rural areas.

"It's harder to have anonymity [in small cities]. Everybody knows your business," Bachtel said. "You can kind of fade into the woodwork in a large metropolitan area."

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