White House: Census to Better Count Gay Couples

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - U.S. Census Bureau officials said Friday
that married same-sex couples will be counted as such in the 2010
national tally, reversing an earlier decision made under the Bush
administration.

Steve Jost, a spokesman for the Census Bureau, said officials
already were identifying the technical changes needed to ensure the
reliability of the information, but remained committed to providing
an accurate tally of gay spouses.

"They will be counted, and they ought to report the way they
see themselves," Jost said. "In the normal process of reports
coming out after the census of 2010, I think the country will have
a good data set on which to discuss this phenomenon that is
evolving in this country."

Same-sex couples could not get married anywhere in the United
States during the last decennial count. But last summer, when two
states sanctioned gay unions, the bureau said those legal marriages
would go uncounted because the federal Defense of Marriage Act
prevented the federal government from recognizing them.

Since President Barack Obama took office, his administration has
been under pressure from gay rights activists to take a fresh look
at the issue. The White House on Friday announced that its
interpretation of the act, known as DOMA, did not prohibit
gathering the information. Gay marriage is now legal in six states,
although the first weddings have not yet commenced in three of
them.

"The president and the administration are committed to a fair
and accurate count of all Americans," White House press secretary
Robert Gibbs said. "We're in the midst of determining the best way
to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are accurately counted."

Enumerating married gay couples will not require any immediate
changes in the census forms, which includes boxes for the genders
of people living in a household and their self-reported
relationships as "husband," "wife" or "unmarried partner,"
according to Jost.

"This is about folks' identity," Jost said. "We are
experienced in dealing with changing social phenomena and how to
measure and report that, and we want to get it right."

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force, called the policy change a significant step.

"The census, I like to say, is on its face about numbers. But
what the census is really about is telling the story of our
country," said Carey, whose group has been among those lobbying
the White House. "Many people, including people in the
administration, are realizing just how important it is to make sure
that (lesbian and gay) Americans are not rendered invisible."

Gary Gates, a demographer based at the University of California,
Los Angeles who has been working with the bureau on the issue, said
producing a reliable count of same-sex married couples is a doable,
but complicated task.

One issue is that some same-sex couples in civil unions or
domestic partnerships already identified themselves as husbands or
wives, both in the 2000 census and in the annual American Community
Survey that the bureau produces each year. So the bureau needs to
figure out a way either to separate those couples from legally
married couples in the next census, or to create a new designation
to capture both groups.

"Thirty percent of same-sex couples in the year 2000 used the
term 'husband' or 'wife,' and none of them were married," Gates
said. "Granted, now we think maybe there are 35,000 who are
legally married, but they are finding 10 times as many using that
term."


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