Legally, the federal government and 45 states do not recognize same-sex marriage — the union of two men or two women.
Which makes one aspect of the 2010 U.S. Census quite curious because it does — a decision that has incensed conservative groups nationwide.
Conservative groups say the bureau is ignoring federal and state laws by allowing same-sex couples to list themselves as married regardless of whether their relationships are legal.
"The law should count for something when the Census Bureau counts America's population, but apparently it doesn't on President Obama's watch," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "The President's Commerce Department is actively encouraging people to ignore U.S. marriage law and invent new definitions for their relationships."
Perkins noted that the federal Defense of Marriage Act forbids the government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
"When it comes to advancing the extreme homosexual agenda, this White House has no limits, not even the facts," he said.
Representatives of the U.S. Census Bureau are so serious about counting same-sex unions or partnerships that they traveled to cities throughout the country yesterday trying to assure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBBT) individuals that not only is it safe to check the “married” box in states where same-sex marriage is not recognized, it’s encouraged.
The day before, the Census Bureau released new videos encouraging same-sex couples and transgender people to participate in the 2010 census, saying that they can be "true" to who they are when filling out census forms.
Thus, same-sex couples will, for the first time, be counted as married even if their relationships are not recognized in their state.
Moreover, transgender people have been encouraged to complete the forms according to their "true gender," as Mara Keisling of the Center for Transgender Equality stated. They, however, will not directly be counted as transgender.
"Be yourself and be counted," Keisling, a transgender-identified woman, said in one of the Census Bureau’s promotional videos.
Gay rights groups hailed the bureau's moves as historic, as it signals recognition of gay and lesbian marriages for the first time federally.
"We pushed hard to make it possible for married same-sex couples to be counted in the 2010 census," reads a statement by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The organization launched a "Queer the Census" campaign demanding even more recognition in the next U.S. census, complete with a question that asks if one is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The organization has been calling on members of the LGBT community and supporters to place pink stickers, found at www.queerthecensus.org, on the outside of their individual census packets. The stickers ask that the senders be identified by their sexual orientation.
“We have to show we are here,” said Doug Gray, a Kansas City political consultant who is gay.
In numbers come power, recognition and the ability to influence policy, he said. Without them, it’s easier for policymakers to marginalize issues affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender community.
Despite being in a committed relationship for a decade, Gray said he purposely did not identify himself as married in the census to make a point.
“I don’t consider us married, because our federal government tells us … we are not worthy of the institution of marriage,” he said. “We need to change that.”
Jason Clinton of Prairie Village, chairman of a local chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which helps make schools safe for gay, lesbian and transgender students, did the opposite.
“My partner and I sent our survey back a few weeks ago,” he said. “We put we are married, even though it is not technically true. The census can look and see we are both male and disregard that, or they can choose to see that as what it is — an attempt to be seen as legitimate.”
Another part of the Census Bureau message: If you’re transgender — born genetically male but having changed to female, or vice versa — feel free to check the gender box you prefer.
Yesterday, the Census Bureau, in cooperation with the Spirit of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Kansas City, Mo., sponsored an event in Kansas City entitled “Talking Numbers: A Discussion of LGBT Communities and the 2010 Census.”
The event focused on how the census will impact LGBT communities, including how same-sex couples will be counted.
“The transgender community faces some unique concerns when it comes to self-identifying our sex on the census forms, but it’s still crucial to fill out and mail it back,” Edward J. SanFilippo, LGBT partnership specials for the U.S. Census Bureau, said in a news release announcing Tuesday’s meeting.
“We can’t lose sight that we’re part of much broader communities that rely on this information — towns, cities, counties, states, and even the whole country. In this respect we count just like everyone else,” he said.
Yesterday, Che Ruddell-Tabisola, the national LGBT partnership leader for the Census Bureau, agreed. “The census is a portrait of America. Our job is to get an accurate count. … One of the most important things is for same-sex couples to know that it is 100 percent safe to participate in the census.”
Safe for two reasons:
First, individuals’ census data are confidential. Second, nowhere on the 2010 census form does the government actually ask for anyone to identify his or her sexual orientation. Boxes exist for “male,” “female” and for spousal relationship. The existence of a same-same marriage or partnership is surmised from the data.
Despite the anonymity, the issue of being counted draws mixed reactions among gay and lesbian couples.
Many, such as state Sen. Jolie Justus of Kansas City — who married partner Shonda Garrison in a May ceremony in Iowa — see the Census Bureau’s move as a small, positive step.
“I guess that I’m impressed that there is a branch of the United States government that recognizes that families come in different forms, including same-sex couples,” Justus said.
At the same time, she and others wonder whether the count actually goes far enough.
The census may capture the small percentage of the gay and lesbian community who list themselves as married couples or as partners in a household. But it does not include single or divorced gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals, so it will offer no realistic sense of how many of them live, work or pay taxes.
Some conservatives worry that the census action actually will produce inflated data for gay-marriage advocates. Even if it doesn’t, they see it lending its legitimacy, another step toward redefining marriage.
In a blog posting, Gary Randall, at the Faith and Freedom Network, said it was “leaving it to responders to characterize their own relationships, regardless of legal status.”
Randall, president believes homosexual numbers will be inflated by the "you decide what you are" policy.
"This policy shift is another attempt to confuse the discussion about marriage by creating a problem of sorts, then providing a solution that advances the homosexual agenda of redefining marriage," he stated.
State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, a candidate for Arkansas’ 3rd District congressional seat, said today she opposes the campaign “not only because it’s an improper message, but because it’s an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Gay-rights activists, with strong support from the Census Bureau, are urging participation by their community in the first U.S. census that will count same-sex couples who say they’re married even though they do not have a marriage license.
“It’s wrong, it’s incorrect,” says Jerry Cox, director of the conservative Family Council, which successfully pushed a 2004 constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Arkansas. “They’re basically asking them to lie on the census form.” Cox says 30 states have passed referendums banning same-sex marriages.
Tim Olson, Census Bureau assistant division chief who is helping oversee the campaign, defended the program.
“What I tell folks in the bureau is that this is a powerful, important part of American society,” Olson said. “We have to reach out and engage this part of the population. Anything less than that is failure.”
Until 2003, no state granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the United States. Massachusetts became the first in November 2003, followed briefly by California in 2008. Connecticut allowed same-sex marriages in 2008, as did Iowa and Vermont the next year and New Hampshire in January.
It is unclear exactly how many gay and lesbian married couples reside in the United States. A 2008 American Community Survey estimates that of the 112 million U.S. households about 565,000, or about one-half of 1 percent, contain same-sex couples.
The survey also estimates that between 3 percent to 4 percent of the U.S. population, or about 10 million individuals, generally are thought to be gay or lesbian, although numbers vary greatly, depending on the questions and the surveys.
Sen. Justus said that getting an accurate count was important. She is working to get sexual orientation added to Missouri’s nondiscrimination act.
“You can be kicked out of your job because you’re gay,” she said. “There is no protection.”
The Rev. Kurt Krieger, pastor at Spirit of Hope in Kansas City, said yesterday that such vulnerability was why some in the LGBT community were slow to reveal their relationship status.
Ruddell-Tabisola reiterated the message: The U.S. Census is confidential.
“If a couple feels they are spouses, if they feel that the person they live with is, in every respect, their husband or their wife, that is how they ought to identify. The bottom line is, this is your census.”
The Census Bureau has begun mailing second forms to approximately 40 million housing units to increase America's participation. Households have until mid-April to mail back their forms. Census data are used to apportion congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide.
It is heartening – and frankly surprising – to learn that ANY aspect of the federal government understands people’s authentic lives. I applaud the Census Bureau in this regard and hope with all of my heart that such understanding extends to every organization, group and individual in our country, regardless of religious or political ideology. Gay unions/partnerships/marriage MUST be recognized and honored LEGALLY.
— The Curator