Friday, June 19, 2009

White House Looks to Include Same-Sex Unions in Census Count -

White House Looks to Include Same-Sex Unions in Census Count -


WASHINGTON -- The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.

The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data.

The gay community strongly supported President Barack Obama during the 2008 election. But some gay activists say they have been frustrated by what they see as his slow approach to rolling back discriminatory policies.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said "the administration continues to make progress on the president's longstanding commitment to promoting equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans."

Mr. Obama on Wednesday issued a directive providing federal employees protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and an expansion of some benefits to same-sex partners.

The Census Bureau has long collected data on same-sex marriages when people chose to report it. White House officials said the previous administration interpreted the federal Defense of Marriage Act as prohibiting the release of the data. The Obama administration has abandoned that interpretation.

The law, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, says that the federal government can recognize a marriage only between a man and a woman. Mr. Obama has advocated repealing DOMA, but his administration earlier this month filed a federal-court brief defending it. The administration called it a routine defense of a federal statute.

An accurate statistical snapshot of legally married same-sex couples may be elusive. Before the White House's plan emerged, Howard Hogan, associate director for demographic programs at the Census Bureau, said data from its 2007 American Community Survey showed more than 340,000 same-sex couples as being in marriages. But according to data from Massachusetts, the only state that permitted gay marriages in 2007, about 11,000 marriage licenses were issued for same-sex couples.

The Obama administration was under pressure to change the Census policy. Rep. Mike Quigley (D., Ill.) sent a letter Tuesday to Mr. Obama, urging him to order the bureau to release same-sex marriage data as part of its standard tabulation of the 2010 Census.

Democratic Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Steve Israel of New York and 51 other lawmakers wrote to White House Budget Director Peter Orszag last month, asking him to work with the bureau's parent agency, the Commerce Department, to reconsider the policy. Mr. Israel said the broad support for his letter shows that Congress has a real "appetite" for movement on this issue.

The original plan for handling these marriages in the 2010 Census was controversial among some statisticians and gay activists. Following procedures employed in 2000, the bureau had planned to use a computer program that recategorized spouses in same-sex marriages as unmarried partners. For the 1990 count, the bureau simply altered the gender designation of one partner.

Some members of the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, composed of private statisticians and members of nonprofit groups, said they think that the bureau has handled same-sex marriages irresponsibly. Ed Spar, a member of the committee and the executive director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, said altering data like the bureau has done with same-sex marriages "does not make any sense."

William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, said it is important to release this data for policy and social analysis. Gary Gates, an expert in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender demographic data at the University of California at Los Angeles, called the administration's move "a very positive step," adding that he would like to see more details.

Write to Jake Sherman at

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