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Till the Census
Do Us Part?

Till the Census
Do Us Part?


National Black Justice Coalition CEO H. Alexander Robinson discusses the U.S. government policy that "requires all federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of administering federal programs."

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.

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.

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