My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘gay right’

Gay Rights, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the 2010 Census

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Check out a solid article from Eve Conant of Newsweek about gay marriage and the 2010 Census (full article HERE):

“Sarah,” an active-duty soldier in Iraq, can hardly be questioned for her patriotism or courage. But when it comes to filling out her 2010 census form, her primary emotion is fear. “I keep real quiet about my partner,” she tells NEWSWEEK. “Even this conversation is a violation of the law, but I’ve stepped away from the other soldiers so I’m not ‘a threat to morale.’ ” Sarah is tired of the subterfuge and wishes she could use her real name for this article without getting fired under “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation. She’s anxious because she knows this census is a watershed moment for the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community, as it is for gay soldiers. “A lot of people don’t want to believe there are 60,000 of us in the military. I don’t believe it either. I think that number is bigger.”

or the first time in the centuries-long history of the census, the number of same-sex couples who self-identify as married—license or no license—will be tabulated and released to the public. The move is seen as both a friendly nod to the gay community—which had pinned its hopes on President Obama and has, at least in some quarters, been frustrated by a perceived slow response to gay-rights issues—and a boost to policy fights, from challenging laws that limit gay adoptions to the nationwide legalization of gay marriage.The release of the data also marks a major shift in the evolution of the Census Bureau. In 1990 it edited the answers of self-identified gay husbands and wives to make them appear as opposite-sex partners; in 2000, instead of editing the sex of a gay spouse it edited the data to describe the same-sex couples as “unmarried partners.” While the Census Bureau doesn’t make policy, its data will be instrumental to inform it. “This will not be a count of the gay population of the U.S., but it will be the biggest, most profound data set that anyone has ever had,” says Timothy Olson, assistant division chief in the U.S. Census Field Division. “There will finally be good data for policymakers to engage in the issues with facts, not speculations.”

“Sarah,” an active-duty soldier in Iraq, can hardly be questioned for her patriotism or courage. But when it comes to filling out her 2010 census form, her primary emotion is fear. “I keep real quiet about my partner,” she tells NEWSWEEK. “Even this conversation is a violation of the law, but I’ve stepped away from the other soldiers so I’m not ‘a threat to morale.’ ” Sarah is tired of the subterfuge and wishes she could use her real name for this article without getting fired under “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation. She’s anxious because she knows this census is a watershed moment for the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community, as it is for gay soldiers. “A lot of people don’t want to believe there are 60,000 of us in the military. I don’t believe it either. I think that number is bigger.”

For the first time in the centuries-long history of the census, the number of same-sex couples who self-identify as married—license or no license—will be tabulated and released to the public. The move is seen as both a friendly nod to the gay community—which had pinned its hopes on President Obama and has, at least in some quarters, been frustrated by a perceived slow response to gay-rights issues—and a boost to policy fights, from challenging laws that limit gay adoptions to the nationwide legalization of gay marriage.

The release of the data also marks a major shift in the evolution of the Census Bureau. In 1990 it edited the answers of self-identified gay husbands and wives to make them appear as opposite-sex partners; in 2000, instead of editing the sex of a gay spouse it edited the data to describe the same-sex couples as “unmarried partners.” While the Census Bureau doesn’t make policy, its data will be instrumental to inform it. “This will not be a count of the gay population of the U.S., but it will be the biggest, most profound data set that anyone has ever had,” says Timothy Olson, assistant division chief in the U.S. Census Field Division. “There will finally be good data for policymakers to engage in the issues with facts, not speculations.”

That upsets some conservatives, who argue that by releasing the data, the bureau is violating the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). “Federal law states that marriage is between a man and woman,” says Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women of America. “This is a denial of federal law.” But she and other family-values leaders lost that argument this summer when Obama reversed the Bush’s administration’s refusal to release the figures. Since DOMA applied only to policymaking agencies, and since the census asks only if a person is a husband or a wife, not if they are “married,” the census, the Obama administration argued, does not violate DOMA.

Nonetheless, some conservatives predict the census will do more harm than good for the gay-rights movement. “There are early indications from states that have allowed such unions that their numbers are not growing,” says Wright. “The census count may end up being a bit of an embarrassment for gay activists.” A 2008 census poll of 3 million households showed that 150,000 same-sex couples used the terms “husband” or “wife” to describe their partner (about 27 percent of the estimated 564,743 same-sex couples living in the U.S.). Yet only 35,000 marriage licenses had been issued by the end of 2008 in Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut, according to the Williams Institute, a UCLA law-school think tank dedicated to sexual-orientation law and public policy. So even without a license, many couples count themselves as married.

This has angered gay-marriage opponents, who say gay couples are falsely boosting their numbers. But gay advocates are not swayed. “You can decide what lying is,” says the Williams Institute’s Gary Gates. “The census questionnaire doesn’t ask if you are legally married; it asks [about] relationships, such as husband or wife. So you could have been married in a church or in a commitment ceremony but have no license.” In part to resolve questions such as this, the census has asked specialists like Gates to advise a follow-up project to improve data collection, including ways to track legal relationships like civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Even if the data will not be a full count of all gays in America, the census is expected to shed light on underreported issues like gay poverty, especially given the common perception that gay couples are predominantly white and wealthy. According to recent research by the Williams Institute and the University of Massachusetts, some 20 percent of children belonging to gay couples live in poverty, compared with 10 percent of children of heterosexual couples. “The census,” predicts Gates, “will be a boon for challenging stereotypes.”