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U.S. Census Bureau won't count same-sex marriages


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U.S. Census Bureau won't count same-sex marriages

By Mike Swift, Mercury News

Tens of thousands of same-sex couples are expected to marry legally in California by 2010, if a constitutional ban on gay marriage doesn't pass at the polls in November.

But no matter what the voters decide, the official government count of the number of married same-sex couples in California is not in doubt. It will be zero.

The U.S. Census Bureau, reacting to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and other mandates, plans to edit the 2010 census responses of same-sex couples who marry legally in California, Massachusetts or any other state. They will be reported as "unmarried partners," rather than married spouses, in census tabulations - a policy that will likely draw the ire of gay rights groups.

The Census Bureau followed the same procedure for the 2000 census, and it does not plan to change in 2010 even though courts in Massachusetts and now California have ruled gay men and lesbians can marry lawfully.

"This has been a question we've been looking at for quite a long time," said Martin O'Connell, chief of the Census Bureau's Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. "It's not something the bureau could arbitrarily or casually decide to change on a whim, because our data is used by virtually every federal agency."

The Census Bureau is not falsifying people's responses, O'Connell said, because the bureau will retain people's original census responses.

"We're not destroying data; we are keeping that data," O'Connell said. "We are just showing the data published in a way that is consistent with the way every other agency publishes their data."

The Census Bureau does not ask about sexual orientation, but it does ask people to describe their relationships to others in their household. If a respondent refers to a person of the same gender as their "husband/wife" on the 2010 census form, the Census Bureau will automatically assign them to the "unmarried partner" category. Legally married same-sex couples will be indistinguishable in census data from those who chose "unmarried partner" to describe their relationship.

Researcher's view

Critics say the census plan will mask the records of legal, same-sex, married couples and therefore degrade the quality of the government's demographic data.

"I just think it's bad form for the census to change a legal response to an incorrect response," said Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles law school that studies gay-related public policy issues. "That goes against everything the census stands for."

Gates, a prominent demographer who was consulted by Census Bureau officials about counting legally married same-sex couples, said one result is that the census will undercount marriages in states with gay marriage. And because the bureau defines a "family" as two or more people related by birth, adoption or marriage, it also will remove many same-sex married couples from being counted as families.

"It's a systematic hiding not only of married gay couples, but gay couples as families, which I would argue is a fundamentally political decision," Gates said.

One recently married couple called the policy "frustrating."

"It's just another layer of the hurdles we have to jump, as far as our relationship being recognized," said Jim Winstead of Hollister, who recently married his partner, Rodney Naccarato-Winstead. The couple have an 18-month-old son.

Gay rights groups, learning of the policy this week, were also critical.

"To have the federal government disappear your marriage I'm sure will be painful and upsetting," said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "It really is something out of Orwell. It's shameful."

A spokeswoman for ProtectMarriage.com, campaigning in favor of the constitutional ban, declined to discuss the census issue in detail, but said it illuminates how the legalization of gay marriage potentially could dictate policy changes on government.

"One of our campaign cornerstones will be the fact that if the initiative doesn't pass that public schools will be forced to teach the difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage," said Jennifer Kerns.

Bureau's reasoning

A census technical note that explains the bureau's rationale on counting same-sex partners for the 2000 census notes that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act "instructs all federal agencies only to recognize opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of enacting any agency programs."

O'Connell said the Census Bureau has been unable to find any federal agency that collects data on same-sex married couples. Changing the policy before the 2010 census also would be a huge and difficult logistical issue.

"The last thing anyone wants is to use the 2010 census as a trial run," O'Connell said.

Gates said, however, that the limitations on access to people's original responses will make it very difficult for private researchers to analyze raw data and back out the number of same-sex spouses in California or other states.

"It's an official closet," Gates said, "that the government has built."

Copyright ? 2008 - San Jose Mercury News

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On the plus side, since the raw data is being retained, it only requires a legislative change or executive order for the information to become available. The data is being hidden, not lost, and it can be revealed if required.

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I don't know much about the US census forms, but I suspect they do NOT ask, "Married to an opposite sex?" anymore than they ask "Married to a same sex". I suspect the whole thing is completely not mentioned, with only single, married, divorced, etc being asked. Just put down married, and it is their problem if they suspect something due to the names being Fred and Ted, or whatever.

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From the news articles I've read, the census will ask for the relationship between the head of the household and the other people on the form. If the relationship is described as "Married" and the two people are the same gender, they census bureau will automatically record that as an unmarried same-sex couple. If there are no children who are related to the head of the household, they will not be counted as a family. Only if there are children who are related to the head of the household will they be counted as a family.

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If it is as you describe, Graeme, then they will be deliberately altering the information provided, by changing the stated Married to an unstated Single. It seems to me that would be illegal. In fact, it seems to me that it would also be illegal for the gay married couple to make a false statement and say 'not married'. Their claim that they will save the information but not publish it can only come about by them actually changing their programming to incorporate a 'hidden and under their control' question which states that they are a 'same sex' couple.

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Is this because the government does not recognize the status the respondants are claiming?

If it does not recognize 'married to a same-sex partner' as a valid, legal desgination, then they cannot show anyone in the census being in that category. They do not have that category to be listed as being in.

I agree this is disingenuous and arbitrary, and certainly such action is despicable, but I would guess that would be the rationale the government would use to explain its behavior in this matter.


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Guest Fritz

I think Cole has it 100% right. DOMA (signed into law on Sept. 21, 1996 by Pres. Clinton) likely prohibits the government from having a category listing for same sex marriages because it does not recognize same sex marriages. From Wikipedia's entry on DOMA the following appears applicable.

"The Federal Government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states."

That looks to me as if it would prohibit even listing same sex marriages on census forms, but I'm not a lawyer and so cannot say for certain. What I can say for certain is that stupid laws produce silly results. If you infer that I consider DOMA a stupid law, you are right.

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As I understand it, the forms will ask what is the relationship between the person in question and the head of the household (which sounds like the Australian census forms, where there is one form to be filled in for everyone staying at a residence on the census night). Married is an option, so the census form has to allow it. If someone marks "married" and they are the same sex as the head of the household, then the bureau will record the original data but will change it to "unmarried" when collating it for reporting purposes. As Fritz said, they have no choice. As a federal agency, they are not allowed to recognise same sex marriages. Same-sex couples can say they are married on the forms, but it can't be legally recognised by the census bureau.

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My point though, is you are not legally allowed to lie on the form, therefore, if you are married, you must say so. If the agency then changes your answer, are they then not actually breaking one law to uphold another?

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My point though, is you are not legally allowed to lie on the form, therefore, if you are married, you must say so. If the agency then changes your answer, are they then not actually breaking one law to uphold another?

That's a legal quagmire of a sorts. You're married legally in your state, but not according to the federal government. As it's a federal census, I suppose you should answer accordingly.


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I'm beginning to get the picture, but Cole's supposition raises another question. I think US Federal law probably prohibits prostitution, but I believe it is legal and endorsed in Nevada. Is a prostitute's statement about her/his employment also changed, or are they required to say they are unemployed? I think that having the Feds say that something is not legal (note, I did not say illegal) when a state say it is, is ludicrous. I wonder how many more instances of this type of foolishness exists.

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Guest Fritz

Trab, not sure that it is actually against federal law to be a prostitute (I think that is left to the states because Federal Law trumps state law, and if it was against Federal Law I would think that would mean that Nevada could not allow it), but I can tell you this much. Prostitutes were required to list their occupation as prostitutes on their income tax forms as late as 1950 and for all I know may still be required to do so. I can further tell you that the feds regulated prostitution in Juneau Alaska at that same time. They limited the number of prostitutes who could be active within the Juneau/Douglas area at any one time, and required weekly medical examinations of those listed as active. As to how it was regulated in the rest of the Alaska Territory I can't say, but that was how it was in Juneau. I do know that there was prostitution in other areas such as Pelican, but I don't know enough about it to say what the rules and regulations were. One last piece of useless information. The red light district in Juneau during that period was on South Franklin St, but I don't remember the number of prostitutes allowed since I was only seven it the time. Dad was an equipment operator and for a couple of winters drove cab which is why I learned that.

It is my understanding that after Alaska became a state, the City of Juneau passed laws against prostitution which only drove it underground and eliminated the medical exams, but that is a different topic for discussion.

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