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Census will report same-sex couples, gay groups see opportunity

By Taylor Gandossy, CNN
Jay Judas, left, and his husband, Peter Dziedzic, aren't quite sure yet which of them will be the head of household.
Jay Judas, left, and his husband, Peter Dziedzic, aren't quite sure yet which of them will be the head of household.
  • 2010 census is first that will report numbers of same-sex couples who use the terms husband and wife
  • Same-sex couples numbers will be released separately says Census Bureau
  • Demographers say new numbers are otherwise unavailable; will be helpful

(CNN) -- Peter Dziedzic and his husband, Jay Judas, aren't quite sure yet which of them will be designated the head of household when they fill out the 2010 census form in April.

Both are employed and make about the same amount of money, Dziedzic, 32, of Boston, Massachusetts, explained recently.

"We'll just pick ... maybe I'll give it to him, he's older," Dziedzic, who legally married Judas, 38, last year, joked.

Regardless of who fills out the census form, the Census Bureau will report their response as a married same-sex couple without changing it.

The 2010 census is the first that will report the numbers of same-sex couples who describe themselves as married, or more specifically, who use the terms husband and wife.

The number of same-sex couples who identify as married will be released separately from the national count on a state-by-state basis, according to Census Bureau reports.

Those couples will not be included in the official national count of married couples because the Census Bureau does not have time before April to change its editing processes -- which "recode" the answer of any person who says he or she is a spouse in a same-sex marriage to "unmarried partner."

Gay advocacy groups say the new numbers will highlight the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and its needs, and they are working to tell gay couples to honestly answer the census questionnaire questions.

Those opposed to same-sex marriage, meanwhile, say the move is just another example of the erosion of the Defense of Marriage Act. The act defines marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between a man and a woman. It allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

More than two dozen gay advocacy organizations have joined together in a coalition called "Our Families Count," which aims to educate the gay community about the census -- that it is confidential, and that people should answer the questions honestly -- something that some may hesitate to do because of fear of discrimination, said Che Ruddell-Tabisola of the Human Rights Campaign.

The numbers will help gays and lesbians in policy fights, he said, and help show their different demographics.

"One of the first challenges is to just be acknowledged," he said. "There are still policy makers who think they have no LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) constituents and don't need to worry about our basic rights," he said.

"There's nothing like the census that paints a picture of America ... and LGBT people are very much a part of that," he said.

"Our Families Count" plans to roll out a Web site next month, and will work at the local level to educate people, Ruddell-Tabisola said.

Although same-sex couples reported being married in the 1990 and 2000 census -- before any state legally allowed same-sex marriage -- the census did not release the data as such.

If members of a same-sex couple reported in 1990 that they were married, the Census Bureau, in its editing process, changed the sex of one to the opposite sex. A decade later, same-sex couples who reported being married were "edited" to be unmarried partners, according to Census Bureau data.

It did not release the unedited data from either year, because of the way the Bush administration interpreted the Defense of Marriage Act, said Derick Moore, a Census Bureau spokesman.

This summer the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration's policy, Moore said.

The data is expected to include thousands more same-sex couples than those who are legally married, and the Census Bureau emphasizes that the 2010 census is not an accurate count of legal marriages.

"What's going to be released is a count of how many couples use the term husband and wife," said Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In the 2000 census, 253,000 of the 594,000 same-sex couples originally reported themselves as married, the Census Bureau said in a report.

And in the American Community Survey in 2008 -- the bureau's annual survey as opposed to its once-a-decade national head count -- nearly 150,000 same-sex couples identified one partner as husband or wife, even though estimates suggest that by the end of 2008, only about 35,000 same-sex couples were legally married, Gates said.

The ACS 2008 survey marked the first time the census bureau released official estimates for the number of same-sex couples who identified one partner as husband or wife.

Currently, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont allow gay marriage. New Hampshire will begin allowing them next year and voters in Maine, which passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage, will decide the issue in a referendum next month.

While gay advocacy groups see the census count as an opportunity to help them, conservative groups who are opposed to gay marriage say counting and releasing the data runs counter to the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

"We see it as a violation to DOMA," said Tom McClusky, the vice president for Family Research Council Action, the legislative action arm of Family Research Council.

He said the group is trying to work with members of Congress to "see what can be done" as far as funding streams to the census.

Jenny Tyree, a marriage analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said in a written statement that the move was "just another clear signal from the Obama administration that marriage is open to redefinition."

Demographers say the census count of same-sex couples who use the term husband and wife will help provide numbers that are otherwise unavailable.

"People far overestimate about how much data there are about the LGBT population," Gates said, noting that few surveys ever ask about sexual orientation.

"The census, while limited ... nonetheless is an enormous resource, at least for that component," he said.

William Frey, of the Brookings Institution, said the count "is a gauge of what people across the country are actually doing."

He said, "I think it reflects change in our society ... social change goes slowly and government statistics try to keep up with the social change, and I think this is an attempt to do that."

Dziedzic said that while he'd like his marriage to be included in the official national count, but that this was a good first step.

"I admire and appreciate the effort, but ... it leaves a little bit to be desired," he said.