ANCHORAGE - The number of Alaskans who reported living with a same-sex partner climbed sharply during the past decade, though such partnerships still appear to represent a very small proportion of Alaska households.
And the increase may have more to do with changing attitudes than an actual increase in the number of same-sex couples.
Figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau also show a jump in the number of Alaskans living with a partner of the opposite sex. The number of married couples showed a smaller increase.
A total of 1,180 Alaska households were made up of same-sex partners in 2000. That's a fourfold increase from 265 in 1990, but it represents just 0.5 percent of the state's households. There were 483 male-partner households reported and 697 female.
The Census Bureau also said the increase in same-sex couples may be due, in part, to a change in the way they were counted. In 1990, unmarried partner statistics were based on a sample of responses. In contrast, the 2000 figures were based on a count of all households.
Researchers said the increase in same-sex couples in the 2000 census figures doesn't necessarily reflect an increase in the number of gay and lesbian partners. Rather, it's evidence that more same-sex partners feel comfortable reporting their living arrangements to the Census Bureau.
Anchorage resident Dan Carter, a government employee and 25-year resident of Alaska, says he thinks the census figures underestimate the actual number of gay and lesbian households. Carter, 54, who has lived with his partner, Al Incontro, for 32 years, says some gay couples are wary of reporting their living arrangements to the government.
"I think there's some distrust of government, which seems to be an Alaska trait anyway, whether you're gay or straight," Carter said.
Carter said he thinks gay couples in Alaska may be reluctant to identify themselves, for fear they may face hostility.
"If you are gay or lesbian and live in Alaska it's not always the most welcoming state to be out in, although it's a wonderful place to live," he said. "I think it was easier when we got here in '76. It used to be much more live and let live."
Another nontraditional household - unmarried people living with a partner of the opposite sex - increased 35 percent from 1990 to 15,388. Such couples made up 7 percent of Alaska households.
While unmarried partnerships have grown more common, plenty of Alaskans still opt for marriage.
"It's not dead yet," said Stephanie Martin, a researcher with the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Martin noted married couples made up more than half of Alaska's 221,600 households last year. Households of married couples in Alaska rose 10 percent to 116,318.