A federal housing study finds that when heterosexual married couples look for a place to live, they are slightly more likely to get a favorable response than gay or lesbian couples.
The study released Tuesday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found a statistically significant but not huge gap in the response to gay and straight couples and, in a surprising detail, found slightly more discrimination in states that had anti-gay discrimination laws than those that didn't.
The national study, based on nearly 7,000 paired-email tests in 50 metropolitan markets over five months in 2011, shows that "we need to continue our efforts to ensure that everyone is treated the same when it comes to finding a home to call their own, regardless of their sexual orientation," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said.
Researchers identified housing providers who advertised the availability of a one-bedroom rental unit and sent them two emailed inquiries within a short time frame.
One email would be from a fictitious married couple and the other from a fictitious same-sex couple. In one format, for instance, the email from a man named "Adam" might have read, "Hello, I just saw your ad on [a website] for the apartment at [specific address] and I am definitely interested. Is it still available? Is there a time that my wife, Tina, and I can stop by and look it over?"
If Adam was meant to be gay, the email would have referred to him and "my partner, Richard" instead. For lesbian couples, two clearly female names were identified as partners.
Researchers tallied such things as any response, favorable responses and whether couples were told the rental unit was available or if they could visit.
In most cases, the couples were treated the same: In 50 percent of cases, both heterosexual and same-sex couples got a favorable response, and in 30 percent of cases, both got no response.
However, in cases where only one of the paired emails got a response, researchers found evidence that the heterosexual couple was more likely to get the OK.
For instance, in nearly 12 percent of cases, only the heterosexual couple got a favorable response, compared with 8.5 percent of cases where only the gay male couple got a favorable response. The results were similar when heterosexual couples were compared with lesbian couples.
Moreover, when all five outcomes were measured together, researchers found that gay males fared slightly worse than heterosexual couples. In 16 percent of cases, for instance, the heterosexual couple was favored in at least one outcome (while the gay couple was favored on none), compared with 14 percent of cases in which the gay couple was favored on at least one outcome (while the heterosexual couple was favored on none).
This difference was statistically significant, and showed adverse treatment of the gay couples, said the researchers, noting that no such difference was found between heterosexual and lesbian couples.
Researchers further concluded that there were more discriminatory responses in states that forbid discrimination, compared with states without such specific laws.
HUD officials said they would continue to press for nondiscriminatory housing practices for gays.
"A person's sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a reason to receive unfavorable treatment when searching for fair housing," said Bryan Greene, HUD's acting assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity.
The study is called "An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples." It was conducted in collaboration with the University of Albany, State University of New York.
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