San Francisco The computers of the U.S. Census Bureau collected data about same-sex couples in the last census and, in effect, responded: “does not compute.”
Any woman who reported she lived with a wife in the 2000 census, or any man who said he lived with a husband, was considered a statistical glitch.
“The software changed it to ‘unmarried partner,”’ said San Francisco Bay area census official David Lloyd. “The software was based on policy, the policy being that same-sex marriage was not legal in 2000.”
That changed in June when the bureau decided to tabulate same-sex couples in whatever way they identify themselves in the 2010 census. The agency hopes to improve accuracy and also regain the trust of gays and lesbians who considered ignoring the once-a-decade count because the federal government does not recognize their marriages.
“It’s a great first step,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of gay rights group Equality California. “We’re pleased that we’re being counted.”
The questions that the Census Bureau will be asking every American about their household relationships have not changed. Whoever fills in the questionnaire this spring must say who else lives in the home, whether that be a husband or wife, a grandparent, child, sibling, in-law, roommate, boarder or unmarried partner.
What has changed, however, is how the government uses the raw information it collects.
Instead of ignoring same-sex couples who identify as married, the Census Bureau has tweaked the software so those couples are counted.
Most states continue to deny same-sex couples the legal status of marriage, including California with the passage of Proposition 8 last year, but Lloyd said gays and lesbians in those states might still report living with a married spouse of the same gender.
“If you view yourself as married because of your relationship, and you aren’t married, perhaps you’ll check the married box,” Lloyd said. “We want people to view themselves as they see themselves.”