Even though Massachusetts and California recognize same-sex marriages, the U.S. Census Bureau will not count gay or lesbian spouses as married in the 2010 census.
Census Bureau officials say the policy of treating married same-sex couples as unmarried partners is dictated by the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for any purpose under federal law. The law "requires all federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex marriages for the purpose of administering federal programs," Census spokesman Stephen Bruckner explained shortly after the policy was disclosed in July.
The policy has drawn criticism from same-sex couples in both states and from gay rights advocacy groups. "To have the federal government disappear your marriage I'm sure will be painful and upsetting," Shannon Minter, legal director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the San Jose Mercury News, which first disclosed the policy. "It really is something out of [1984 author George] Orwell."
Demographer Gary Gates at the pro-gay marriage Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, says the decision amounts to deliberately producing inaccurate population data. "Bureau officials should acknowledge the reality that same-sex couples can legally marry in this country," he says, "and stop altering the accurate responses of same-sex couples who describe themselves as married."
Anti-gay marriage groups, however, defend the bureau's decision. "We're dealing with a government entity that is given certain charters and mandates, and they have to subscribe to public law," says Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
The bureau's decision will not affect the overall population count, which the Constitution requires every 10 years in order to apportion seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 states. But detailed information from the household questionnaires is used by the bureau and by independent researchers to provide demographic analyses in such areas as family structure and size, income and education.
The bureau says the questionnaires used in the 2010 census will not be destroyed, so the data will theoretically be available to independent researchers later. But the bureau's decision will slow a count of married same-sex couples in California, where marriage licenses now identify spouses only as "Party A" and "Party B."