Census 2010 to Report Same-Sex Marriage Data
Updated 3:46 p.m. ET
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.
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."
The new policy marks a continued shift in how the Census handles declarations of same-sex partnerships. In 1990, enumerators made a practice of changing the sex of a person described as the husband or wife of a head of household to reflect the opposite sex. In 2000, the bureau instead edited the data to describe same-sex couples as "unmarried partners.”
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.
The policy change is considered a victory by gay rights groups frustrated by the Obama administration's response to their concerns about various discriminatory policies. Though President Obama extended some benefits to the gay partners of federal employees in June, gay rights leaders blasted the administration for filing a federal court brief in defense of DOMA earlier this year and are upset that Obama has yet to repeal the military "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), one of several lawmakers who pushed Obama to release the Census data, called today's announcement, "a great step forward," but added in a statement that "we have many more to go toward achieving full equality for the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender] community and all Americans."
Today's announcement adds to the historic nature of next year's Census, which already promises to be the largest and most expensive in American history. It will cost at least $14 billion and require the hiring of about 1 million temporary workers.
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