Till the Census Do Us Part?

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 12 2008 1:00 AM ET

The examples of
the unfairness of the second-class status of
America’s gay and lesbian couples continue to
mount. Though married, my husband, Greg, and I --
along with tens of thousands of married same-sex couples
-- will be unmarried in the eyes of the U.S. government
unless something is done quickly to fix the upcoming
census.

Several months
ago the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the procedures
used to count and tabulate relationship data would be
“guided by and comply with legal requirements
of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which requires
all federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex
marriages for the purposes of administering federal
programs.” The bureau has stated that any
respondents who mark off people of the same gender as
“husband” or “wife” on the new
census form will be automatically classified as an
“unmarried partner.”

How is it a
census if we don’t even count?

Although same-sex
couples are legally married in Massachusetts,
Connecticut, and California, census officials say that
same-sex partners who list themselves as spouses will
be recorded as "unmarried partners" -- just as they
were in the 2000 census. The Census Bureau reasons
that DOMA, approved by Congress and signed by President Bill
Clinton, prohibits the federal government from recognizing
as a marriage the union of anyone but a man and a
woman.

To put it another
way, the president who was swept into office in no
small measure with the help of gay and lesbian voters (and
who proclaimed that he had a vision of America and
that gay and lesbian people were a part of it), aided
and abetted by an irrational Congress, may have
ensured that the federal government will deny reality and
Photoshop gay and lesbian families out of the picture.
Census officials have said the agency will retain
same-sex spouses' original responses but will edit
them for the published census tabulations.

 H. Alexander Robinson x100 (publicity) | Advocate.com

The result of
this outrageous exercise in governmental hubris will be
that the federal government will not have an accurate count
of the reality of American communities in 2010. The
policy will, for example, require that the couple's
children be listed as having a single parent. And it
will cause the census to undercount families, defined as two
or more people in the same household related by birth,
adoption, or marriage.

In the weeks
since the election of Barack Obama as president, Joe Biden
as vice president, and the most pro-LGBT Congress in
history, there has been much talk about legislative
priorities. We must pass hate-crimes legislation and
protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans
in the workplace, including allowing us to serve openly and
honestly in the military. However, repeal of the
Defense of Marriage Act, a move the incoming
administration supports, is undoubtedly a heavy lift
and is not often mentioned as a first-out-of-the-gate
priority.

The census will
be quickly upon us. If this current census plan to edit
same-sex married couples out of their data is not addressed
soon, the legacy of the first African-American
president of the United States will include treating
gay and lesbian Americans not merely as less than full
citizens of our country but denying our existence
altogether. The gut-wrenching irony of that
possibility should not be ignored.