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article imageU.S. Census Bureau Will Not Recognize Same-sex Marriages in 2010 Report

By Susan Duclos     Jul 14, 2008 in Lifestyle
Should the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages in the November election in California fail, the U.S. Census Bureau still will not be recognizing those couples as married in their 2010 census report.
In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down a state law that allowed only opposite-sex couples to marry. Conservative religious groups then obtained enough signatures to have a ban on same-sex marriage as a state constitutional amendment, added on to the November ballot, which if it receives the majority of vote, it would then overturn the Supreme Courts ruling.
Voters in at least 20 states have approved such amendments. The 2000 California initiative passed with 61 percent of the vote, but it was not a constitutional amendment as the one on the November ballot is.
If the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages fails in the November elections, then tens of thousands of same-sex couples are expected to legally marry in the state of California by the year 2010.
As Mike Swift with reports: The U.S. Census Bureau, citing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which they interpret as instructing all federal agencies only to recognize opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of enacting any agency programs, will edit the responses on the 2010 census questionnaires and list those couples as "unmarried partners".
According to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, (2 page PDF version here) the state purpose is as follows:
To define and protect the institution of marriage.
The specific passage that the U.S. Census Bureau refers to, states:
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.'.
On July 12, 1996 the bill was passed in the U.S House of Representatives with a vote of 342 to 67 and on September 10 of the same year, it passed the Senate with a vote of 85 to 14.
It was then signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.
Because of that law the U.S. Census Bureau says they will follow the same procedure for the 2010 census report as they did with the 2000 census report and the reason they give is twofold.
First they quote the law above, then according to the chief of the Census Bureau's Fertility and Family Statistics Branch, Martin O'Connell, it would be a "huge and difficult logistical issue" and that the Census Bureau has been unable to find any federal agency that collects data on same-sex married couples.
O'Connell goes on to say, "This has been a question we've been looking at for quite a long time. 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."
He concludes by saying, "The last thing anyone wants is to use the 2010 census as a trial run."
Critics of the stated policy say that it will degrade the quality of the government's demographic data and Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, which is a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles law school that studies gay-related public policy issues, states, "I just think it's bad form for the census to change a legal response to an incorrect response. That goes against everything the census stands for."
Ben Holder and Ernie Frausto  top  both of San Francisco  celebrate California s supreme court decis...
Ben Holder and Ernie Frausto, top, both of San Francisco, celebrate California's supreme court decision as they dance, on Castro Street in San Francisco, Thursday, May, 15, 2008.
by bobster1985-Flickr
O'Connell, speaking for the agency maintains that the Census Bureau will not be "falsifying" the responses and will be retaining the original 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.
Newly married same-sex couples are frustrated over this news and gay rights activist groups are equally as critical, with the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Shannon Minter, saying, "To have the federal government disappear your marriage I'm sure will be painful and upsetting. It really is something out of Orwell. It's shameful."
An interesting item which the U.S. Census Bureau, nor the article about this story seems to address, is whether they are preparing a plan B, so to speak, a contingency, for the possibility that Barack Obama is elected as President in November of 2008, because according to a PDF produced by, it states:
Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples equal legal rights and privileges as married couples, including the right to assist their loved ones in times of emergency as well as equal health insurance, employment benefits, and property and adoption rights. Obama also believes we need to fully repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions.
Should Barack Obama win the November elections, it is within the realm of possibility that Congress, the Senate and Obama would all approve a new definition of marriage by the year 2010, rendering the U.S. Census Bureau's official position moot.
According to CNN, Obama opposes same-sex marriage, supports civil unions, but also opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
That support or lack thereof might also be a moot point if the California voters decide to vote for the same-sex marriage ban in November, thereby making it a state constitutional amendment.
More about Census bureau, Same-sex marriage, Unmarried partners
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