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Census to Release Marriage Information

Timothy Kincaid

August 3rd, 2009

We reported that the President was looking into the possibility of counting same-sex marriages in the 2010 census. Now it’s official: (WaPo)

The Census Bureau will for the first time publicly release the number of gay marriages reported in a decennial census, as it plans to release raw data about same-sex relationships in the 2010 headcount, according to new guidelines released today.

The decision reverses a Bush-era policy that prohibited the release of the data. In a legal opinion published last week, Commerce Department lawyers concluded that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act does not prohibit the Census Bureau from publicly releasing the data, contrary to the conclusions reached by Bush administration lawyers.

It appears, however, that the data will be “released” but not “counted” so as to be compliant with Congress’ Defense of Marriage Act. Evidently there is no assumption that DOMA will have been reversed any time before 2010 or 2011.

Continuing current policy, the new guidelines state that software used by Census enumerators will recode answers given by same sex-partners who mark their relationship status as “husband or wife,” to “unmarried partner.” But then, in late 2011, Census officials will for the first time release the raw state-by-state data on same-sex couples that marked their relationship status as “husband or wife.”

Statisticians (and politicians) need not wait until 2011 for census information about same-sex couples.

The Census will first report same-sex marriage data later this year when it releases the 2008 American Community Survey. The results of the annual housing and population survey will include unedited responses regarding relationship status.

This is all good news. And a great step. And will inject valuable information into the national discourse. And for this moment we celebrate.

But if we step back a moment to look at the big picture, we see same-sex couples who have legally married in the eyes of their state, their church, their families, and their communities who truthfully report this to their government, only to have that government change their answers. And considering that the purpose of a census is to provide accurate information so as to allow for informed decision making, it is hard to fathom the logic of beurocrats and politicians deliberately deceiving themselves just so that they may refuse to acknowledge what their constituents are trying to tell them.

Some day we will all look back and marvel at the blatant discrimination with which our nation has abused its gay and lesbian citizens.



Thomas Kraemer
August 3rd, 2009 | LINK

The Census has always made “raw data” available to researchers, even back in the days of magnetic data tape reels. The problem with the Census Bureau’s “raw data” is there are VERY FEW people with access to the highly sophisticated computer algorithms required to accurately extract even simple information, such as the number of same-sex married couples by state. Hopefully, some gay census experts will do this work pro bono.

August 3rd, 2009 | LINK

I know there’s been studies that have attempted to estimate same sex couples based on the census before, so it’s well-trodden territory.

I’m having trouble understanding how DOMA applies to the census at all and why they have to do this idiotic tap dance. It’s just data, not policy.

Christopher Waldrop
August 4th, 2009 | LINK

Like Burr I wonder why DOMA applies to the census, and as I read this I was scratching my head and wondering what the Bush administration’s justification was for prohibiting the release of the information. Oh, I know Bush didn’t think the public needed to know anything, but was there really a concern that releasing information about the number of same-sex couples in the US posed a threat?

August 4th, 2009 | LINK

CW –
Of course it’s a threat – to those who want to keep believing that gay marriage either doesn’t exist or cannot happen.
Their entire way of life will be overturned if they find out that the statistics for gay marriage and divorce are about the same as for hetero marriage and divorce. They would have to start thinking of us as actual people rather than a few shouting political terrorist perverts.

Christopher Waldrop
August 5th, 2009 | LINK

Thanks for clarifying. It’s so obvious I feel stupid for not realizing that suppressing the data would allow people who feel threatened by same-sex marriage to pretend it doesn’t exist.
And maybe I’m being overly naive and optimistic, but there is a possibility that same-sex divorce rates are lower than they are for heterosexual couples. I can understand why some might consider that a threat.

Jason D
August 5th, 2009 | LINK

“And maybe I’m being overly naive and optimistic, but there is a possibility that same-sex divorce rates are lower than they are for heterosexual couples. I can understand why some might consider that a threat.”

My guess is that the divorce rate will be lower for LGBT couples…at first. Along with younger couples who decided to tie the knot recently, there are also a number of couples who’ve been defacto “married” for 10, 20, 30, 40+ years already — those couples are less likely to get legally married today and legally divorced tomorrow. But after we run out of older couples who have been waiting decades to get married, I think it will equalize.

August 7th, 2009 | LINK

Is this only counting marriages that are legally recognized? If I have a same-sex marriage in Illinois recognized by friends and family but not Illinois, do I still get ignored?

chris colon
August 7th, 2009 | LINK

I don’t understand why DOMA would prevent gay marriages from being counted. Illegal aliens are encouraged to participate in the census so that they can be counted. It is important to count everyone, and every category as well. Obviously, even though they are encouraged to participate, they probably don’t in great numbers. However, the point is that they are counted, and the fact that it is illegal for them to be in the country does not prevent the government from counting them. Makes no sense to me at all! I WANT ALL LEGAL GAY MARRIAGES COUNTED IN THE NEXT CENSUS AND I WILL ENCOURAGE/DEMAND THIS FROM MY REPRESENTATIVES IN D.C.. This is the kind of information that will help us to measure our efforts in the work of legalizing gay marriage, and not having the information makes it impossible to make any conclusions about legally married gay couples’ demographics and they all know that! Write to your representation in D.C. to force the counters to include legally married gay couples.

Timothy Kincaid
August 7th, 2009 | LINK


I’m not sure. My understanding is that they will release the number of those who tick the “married” box but are of the same sex.

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