Imagine browsing in a bookstore on a Saturday night with your significant other. The two of you have spotted someone from your partner’s job. Now imagine having to walk away and hide, pretending you don’t know your significant other, until the co-worker is gone.
That’s exactly what Grant Holloway, 29, had to do when he and his longtime partner, an academic administrator at a private school, first moved to Baton Rouge in 2003.
Holloway and his partner are both men.
Such scenarios are an aggravation that opposite-sex couples, for the most part, don’t have to go through, Holloway said.
Holloway said he and his partner don’t have the same civil rights as married couples.
“I had to get medical power-of-attorney when he was in the hospital,” Holloway said.
Louisiana does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions. The state, like every other state in the nation, has its share of same-sex couples, although it’s unclear exactly how many might be in Louisiana.
A 2010 census snapshot of Louisiana shows the state has 12,153 same-sex couples.
East Baton Rouge Parish has 1,324 same-sex couples, or 7.7 per 1,000 households, according to the data. Demographers claim those numbers are deceptively low.
It’s well known that some people have a distrust of government and can be leery about answering questions on census forms, much less one as personal as asking them to identify themselves as part of a same-sex couple.
“I find the question (on the census form) very intrusive,” Shreveport demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher said. “The answer is: We really don’t know how many same-sex couples live in Louisiana.”
Both Louisiana’s and the nation’s rates of same-sex couples per 1,000 households are at 7.03, according to the 2010 Census data.
For a recent article about the census data, Kevin Serrin, the chairman of the board of the Capital City Alliance, a nonprofit Baton Rouge group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said his partner did not want to be interviewed because he was concerned about possible repercussions with his job as a marketing professional.
“And that’s the kind of problem a lot of people in same-sex relationships are in here,” Serrin said.
That doesn’t mean every same-sex couple in Baton Rouge has had a rough time of it.
Joe Boniol, 57, and Lester Mut, 55, have been a couple in Baton Rouge for 18 years.
Boniol and Mut had a blessing of the union ceremony in 2000, even though such unions are not recognized legally in Louisiana,
“Les and I are out. We are not flag wavers. We are not extreme. We are just like the guys next door,” Boniol said.
Regardless of the problems same-sex couples in Baton Rouge may or may not have, the one thing they would all agree on is this: Baton Rouge should express more tolerance.
Religious views on the subject are personal and important, but should those views affect the way people are treated?
There’s an economic component, as well.
LSU demographer and sociology professor Troy Blanchard said cities that are less diverse usually do not grow as fast economically.
Blanchard said New Orleans and Lafayette — which have higher rates of same-sex couples than Baton Rouge — have stronger arts and cultural centers, which help create diverse populations. Baton Rouge, on the other hand, has always been a more traditional family area, Blanchard said.
Maybe it’s time for Baton Rouge to embrace everyone equally to attract the diversity that’s good for economic development.
Maybe it’s time for Baton Rouge to expand the notion of what’s considered traditional.
Steven Ward is a general-assignment reporter at The Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.