Friday, March 20, 2009

Push to Count Same Sex Couples

Metro - City Room Blog -

A Push to Count Same-Sex Couples
By Sewell Chan
Bill de BlasioMarc A. Hermann/Associated Press Bill de Blasio

City Councilman Bill de Blasio has introduced a resolution calling on the federal government to recognize same-sex couples in the 2010 Census and to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in other federal surveys. But the resolution carries little more than symbolic weight, and the Census Bureau believes that the federal Defense of Marriage Act bans it from recognizing same-sex marriage, as Mr. de Blasio and other supports of gay rights would like it to do.

Mr. de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat, has drawn support for his resolution from two members of Congress, Yvette D. Clarke of Brooklyn and Nydia M. Velázquez, who represents parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens; two fellow Council members, Rosie Mendez and the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, both of whom are openly lesbian; and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, whom Mr. de Blasio is running to succeed.

As recently as July, the Census Bureau reiterated its stance that the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 bans it from recognizing same-sex marriages, even though they are now legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The Census Bureau does not ask people about their sexual orientation, but it does ask about their relationships to the head of the household. If a head of household reports the presence of a spouse of the same sex, the couple are automatically reclassified as unmarried same-sex partners.

Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute of the U.C.L.A. School of Law, which focuses on sexuality and public policy, said the Census’s enumeration of unmarried same-sex partners is an imperfect and imprecise measurement.

Furthermore, Dr. Gates said in a phone interview, it makes it difficult for researchers who wish to study how those same-sex couples who have gotten married differ from those who have not.

The New York City resolution, which was announced on Wednesday during a rally on the steps of City Hall, calls on the Obama administration to alter Census policies through executive powers.

It is not clear, however, whether the president can do so without changes to the Defense of Marriage Act, which is itself facing a constitutional challenge. Furthermore, the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, lacks permanent leadership. As the department itself: Two nominees for secretary of commerce, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, withdrew from consideration, and the third, former Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, has not been confirmed.

Still, Dr. Gates said he believed the executive branch was permitted some latitude in interpreting the Defense of Marriage, and he called the changes sought by Mr. de Blasio “low-hanging fruit.”

He added: “It wouldn’t change anything about the Census. This has no impact on the survey or the data collection.”

Mr. de Blasio has also pointed to other ways in which the Census does not recognize families led by homosexuals. Same-sex couples with adopted children are not recognized as “families” by the Census, and same-sex couples who live with children related to only one member of the couple are regarded as single-parent households.

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, an advocacy group for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in New York, said in a statement:

It is time for the federal government to put a stop to the discriminatory practices that currently exist in the Census process in regards to our community.

Even though the State of New York recognizes the thousands of same-sex couples who have gone to get legally married in places like Massachusetts, Connecticut and Canada, the U.S. Census Bureau will actively discriminate against these and thousands of others across the country by editing the responses of same-sex couples who report themselves as “married” on the 2010 Census Survey. No other answer given by any other American as part of the Census is going to be scrutinized and proactively reversed by the government in this way.

The Obama administration has the ability to easily end this discriminatory practice. We ask that President Obama direct the Census Bureau to treat same-sex couples the same way it treats opposite-sex couples. Allow us all to report our relationships on the Census survey as we see most appropriate and stop the current practice of editing the responses made by same-sex couples who consider themselves married.

We also ask that the Obama Administration take the easy step of including L.G.B.T. people in other, more frequent surveys that the U.S. Census Bureau administers—surveys like the Survey of Income and Program Participation and the Current Population Survey. By adding categories for sexual orientation and gender identity, L.G.B.T. Americans will no longer be invisible in the eyes of our government and our representatives can make more informed decisions about how to best allocate important resources and make effective public policy.

It is time for government to start counting us. The Census should not be censoring.


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