More than twice as many women as men are planning to turn out at 12 a.m. Wednesday in Boulder County to secure state certification of their civil unions -- but the possible explanations for that disparity are numerous and open to debate.
Also, the gender split may be a phenomenon specific to Boulder County, and not reflect a larger statewide trend.
Out Boulder, a local LGBT advocacy group, is coordinating a celebration for civil unions at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office at 12 a.m. Wednesday. That's when civil union licenses will first be available in Colorado under Senate Bill 13-011, signed into law March 21.
Out Boulder executive director Aicila Lewis reports that her group knows of 40 couples planning to show up at 12 a.m. Wednesday; 26 of them are female couples, 12 couples are male, and two are heterosexual partners that the LGBT community calls "allies."
"I just don't have any idea," said Lewis, when asked to explain the gender split. "There are so many factors. I don't know that it is a question that we can answer -- other than to ask the folks who are there, why they are doing it?"
Lewis also held out the possibility that the actual turnout that night could ultimately reveal less of an imbalance than currently forecast.
One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group based in Denver that lobbied for passage of the civil unions law, is not expecting the turnout Wednesday in Denver -- where the clerk and recorder's office also will open at midnight -- to be slanted heavily in number toward either gender.
"We have seen a great level of interest by gay and lesbian couples alike, who want to be among the first to obtain a civil union license on May 1," said One Colorado executive director Brad Clark.
"While it is true that women in Colorado and across the country still face unique economic inequalities -- including being paid lower wages for doing the same work as men -- and that may play a factor in lesbian couples being particularly eager to take advantage of the critical protections that civil unions provide, we have not seen any evidence to suggest a particular trend."
One Colorado spokesman Jon Monteith echoed Clark, saying, "We have no expectation or evidence that more women will apply for licenses than men."
But in Boulder County, it certainly appears that will be the case -- at least at 12 a.m. Wednesday.
Range of possible reasons
Glenda Russell, staff psychologist at the University of Colorado's Counseling and Psychological Services, has numerous theories about what could be behind the gender divide.
"It has been true elsewhere with marriage that there are more same-sex couples who are female getting married than male," she said.
Russell cited a five-year study from the state of Massachusetts, published by the Williams Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles, showing that 61 percent of the people entering same-sex marriages in that state were women.
"One factor, I think, is that women in general, of any sexual orientation growing up in this society, are more encouraged to solemnize relationships than men are," Russell said. "That's a fact of life, for men and women."
She also said that there are more households nationally headed up by same-sex couples with children under 18 at home who are female than male, and they might desire the greater legal protections afforded by a state-recognized union. The Williams Institute, she said, put that figure at 61 percent in 2011, based on the Census Bureau's ongoing American Community Survey.
Russell also stressed the fact that Wednesday's event will be a very public happening, and said, "People in general have an easier time with the idea of two women getting together than they do with two men getting together."
She backed that up by pointing out that several different studies she has reviewed all indicate that four to five times as many men, as women, are targeted in hate crimes initiated due to the victims' sexual orientation.
"I think two gay men might be a little more reluctant to put themselves into a position (publicly) that is, statistically speaking, more likely to get them some negative consequences than women," Russell explained.
Two men who will be securing their civil union license and certificate at 12 a.m. Wednesday are Boulder residents Scott Murphy and Chris Amidei. They were both not surprised to hear that their gender appears likely to be in a minority at the county clerk's office in Wednesday's wee hours.
"My take is that there are more lesbian couples in the Boulder County area than gay men couples," said Murphy, who has lived here with his longtime partner for three years.
"With no science behind that observation at all, I think it's that the women have more of that family thing, the nesting instincts, to get together to have a family, and possibly adopt children," Murphy added.
He and Amidei have no children, and don't expect that to change.
Caution over 'unwarranted speculation'
Former Boulder County Attorney Larry Hoyt, who married his partner in California while same-sex marriage was briefly legal there, has led local seminars on the new civil union law. He said the ratio of same-sex couples in attendance was about "60-40," female to male.
Hoyt nevertheless said that talking about any reasons for the disparity felt to him somewhat like "unwarranted speculation."
However, Hoyt added, "I think there has long been an understanding that in the LGBT community, just as in society generally, that men tend to have more money than women. And so if you had to go somewhere else to get married, like Canada or Massachusetts, that can relatively expensive... and maybe it's more likely that more men couples would have been doing that than women."
Under Hoyt's theory, that would then leave a higher preponderance of female couples still wishing to make their union official.
A three-year estimate for 2009-2011 from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey showed that in Boulder County, 0.8 percent of the households were headed up by same-sex, unmarried partners. For the city of Boulder, the number was slightly higher, at 0.9 percent.
CU's Russell cautioned that the people who stream into county offices the first day the law takes effect may not be representative of who shows up, say, a month from now.
"People who are going to be doing it at the beginning, chances are, they are not going to lose their jobs, and are in safer positions than people who do it under the radar later on," Russell said. "If somebody is worried about child custody, or they have a job they think is tenuous, based on their sexual orientation, they sure aren't going to want to be in the newspaper, getting a civil union."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or email@example.com.
Civil unions in Colorado
What: Civil unions will be licensed and certified by Colorado county clerks starting Wednesday
When: 12 a.m. Wednesday until everyone is served; reopening 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office, 1750 33rd St., Boulder
More info: outboulder.org/content/first-civil-unions-celebration
Mean number of years in a committed relationship: Male, 9.2 years.; female 9 years
If in relationship, do you have designated beneficiary?: Male, 33 percent; female 35 percent
Believe civil unions/marriage most important issue facing Colorado LGBT community?: Male, 50 percent; female 52 percent
Source: One Colorado survey ___