Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Census Asked to Recognize Gay Marriages

New England Blade and HX New England // News // Census Asked to Recognize Gay Marriages

y Joshua Lysen
August 07, 2008
Gay activists are pushing the U.S. Census Bureau to reconsider its decision to ignore same-sex marriages.
David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior public policy advocate, and others said the recently revealed federal decision to ignore the marriages performed in California and Massachusetts is wrong.
“These couples are married,” Stacy said. “Census data should reflect the reality that these marriages have happened. They’re real. They’re legal.”
Citing their compliance with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal officials last month told the San Jose Mercury News that same-sex couples who are legally wed would be reported as “unmarried partners” rather than married spouses.
Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, berated the Census Bureau this week for “airbrushing same-sex couples out of the picture.”
“It’s bad enough that the federal government denies legal respect and protections to same-sex couples and their kids, even those legally married in their home states,” he said. “Now it is also going to deny their existence.”
The approach also has drawn criticism from demographers who rely on census data.
Gary Gates, a Williams Institute researcher who specializes in gay demographics, said the Defense of Marriage Act gives officials no specific reason to overlook gay marriages during the 2010 census.
“Counting same-sex married couples is hardly providing any federal recognition of them, other than recognizing that’s how they filled out a form,” he said. “They’re not going to get their Social Security benefits.”
Gates said the Census Bureau’s approach resembles how officials treated gay couples during the 2000 count, when no state recognized same-sex marriages.
But he said with the advent of same-sex marriage in California, Massachusetts, and briefly in Iowa, many gay couples can now accurately report themselves as married.
“The problem now is that could be a completely legal response,” Gates said. “The Census Bureau is now potentially changing completely accurate responses to inaccurate ones.”
Stacy chided federal officials this week for planning to change the data.
“That’s not the right thing to do from a moral standpoint,” he said, “and that’s not the right thing to do from a data integrity standpoint.”
Stephen Buckner, a Census Bureau spokesperson, told the Blade in an e-mailed statement that officials have met with Gates “and others who are interested in this issue,” but are holding firm to their decision.
“The Census Bureau’s procedures for tabulating relationship data are guided by and comply with legal requirements of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996,” he wrote, “which requires all federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of administering federal programs.”
Stacy said HRC would nonetheless keep pushing federal officials to count same-sex marriages.
“We don’t get a sense that this decision is irrevocable or final or the last word,” he said. “And most importantly, we don’t think there is a DOMA issue here. So given all that, we want to find a way to help the census get a count of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts and California and all throughout the country.”
Gates said he would also continue to pressure the Census Bureau to count same-sex marriages.
“I don’t believe that DOMA necessarily restricts the Census Bureau from coming up with a mechanism to identify these couples,” he said. “That said, if DOMA were repealed, this would be a much easier issue.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. But because the Census Bureau is already preparing the 2010 census, it’s unclear what effect, if any, a repeal would have on the count.
“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,” Census Bureau branch chief Martin O’Connell told the San Jose Mercury News.
Stacy said HRC is hopeful, though, that time remains for the Census Bureau to change its plans.
“There’s plenty of time to address this issue before any data is reported or collected for the 2010 Census,” he said. “So we’re optimistic that as the Census Bureau reviews this, they will reconsider their initial decision to, quote unquote, correct the data.”
Gates also noted it would behoove the Census Bureau to report its data as impartially as possible to better inform the national debate over same-sex marriage.
“Given that this debate is one of the hottest and most discussed debates in the country, regardless of what side you’re on, you would want a better understanding of the whole issue,” he said. “For instance, if you’re arguing that same-sex couples would fundamentally change the institution of marriage, it would be interesting to know what kind of same-sex couples find marriage appealing.” //

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