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Originally published September 28, 2013 at 9:03 AM | Page modified September 28, 2013 at 1:22 PM

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Same sex, settling down

Among the nation’s largest cities, Seattle has edged out San Francisco as having the largest concentration of gay-couple households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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This Seahawks/49ers business aside, here’s something else for those two cities to tussle over: For the first time, Seattle has surpassed San Francisco as having the largest concentration of same-sex-couple households.

Recent census data show 2.6 percent of all Seattle households last year comprised gay and lesbian couples — married and unmarried — the highest among the nation’s biggest cities. That’s up from 1.7 percent in 2011.

The rate puts Seattle ahead of San Francisco — long considered the center of the universe for gay and lesbian people, and where gay-couple households last year accounted for 2.5 percent of all households.

San Francisco had boasted the top spot since the Census Bureau first started counting same-sex couples in 2000.

But before you claim bragging rights, bear in mind this is based on a survey and the estimate has a margin of error that essentially makes the difference between the two cities statistically insignificant.

It’s not clear whether what we’re seeing is driven by couples moving here from elsewhere or reflects more local gay and lesbian singles coupling up.

Of the city’s 125,000 households with couples, the census found, 7,551 — about 1 in 17 — were those of gay and lesbian couples.

Gary Gates is the go-to demography expert with the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California at Los Angeles that conducts research on gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) issues.

Gates, who himself moved to Seattle from California with his husband about two years ago, said city-level “single year differences are likely as much, if not more, a product of statistical noise as they are indicative of any real trend.”

That’s no ringing endorsement.

So what to make of this?

Josh Friedes, a spokesman for the LGBT advocacy group Equal Rights Washington, said Seattle does tend to attract gay people — particularly couples — from other cities because it’s considered a great city for families.

“I think this is a nesting, family-oriented city for gay couples,” Friedes said.

“A lot of folks first flock to places like San Francisco, New York and D.C. and eventually realize that while those are wonderful places to be gay, it may not be the quality of life they are looking for.”

It was that question of quality of life that drew Steven Austin and Michael Pirkle here from Houston two years ago, after the two men had drawn up a list of all the attributes they wanted in a hometown.

They eventually ruled out Denver and San Francisco and finally Portland.

The two had long vowed to leave Texas, which offers no legal protections against discrimination for gay workers, where few employers offer benefits for the partners of gay employees, and where voters in 2005 approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Seattle feels just right. “We love the city ... there’s so much energy here,” Pirkle said.

He said the two have immersed themselves in the local arts scene and boast on Facebook about all their great Northwest adventures.

“We jokingly refer to ourselves as ‘Texas anchor gays,’ ” Pirkle said, because their ravings about the region have encouraged gay friends from Texas to move here.

“What blew me away was in December when we got married; it was as if the entire city was celebrating. Everyone, from the barista at Starbucks to people we met that day on the street, congratulated and wished us well. And it didn’t seem to matter if they were gay or straight.”

Staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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