By request from reader Lindsay, I’m commenting on this Salon article discussing the decision made by the Census Bureau to totally ignore same-sex marriages. I’ve actually been aware of this for several days, and I think it’s stupid, and I sort of assumed that everyone else knows that it’s stupid, but hey, readers ask, I oblige.
What’s happening is that people in same-sex marriages are being treated as “unmarried couples.” They are more than welcome to say that they are married, but in census reports, their responses will be adjusted to “unmarried partners,” instead of “spouses.” This is because of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which, I might add, was signed into law by everyone’s favourite sax-playing philanderer, Bill Clinton. Under DOMA, the Feds cannot recognize same-sex marriages, ergo same-sex marriages cannot be counted on the census.
In fact, in 2000 (and 1990!), the same policy was in place. The gay community seems to have forgotten about this (or only recently decided to get riled up), and in 2000 it was actually a step forward, because people were finally allowed to say “unmarried partner” to indicate that they were in a sexual relationship, rather than just happening to live with someone of the same sex.
There are a couple of issues going on here. The first is the decision to do away with the famous long form (which I filled out in 2000, incidentally). By taking away the long form, the census pretty much had to rework the short (and only) form to get basic demographic data, without a lot of nuances. And, by law, census questions have to be written out two years ahead of time and cleared by the government, which means that when a question would violate the law, it’s not going to fly. Likewise, people in polygamous marriages don’t get to claim all of their spouses on their census forms, because their marriages are not recognized by the government.
Quite simply, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, which means that technically, they don’t exist. Yes, I still think it’s important for individual states to fight for the right to marry, because they will set a precedent which will allow the federal law to be overturned, but right now, a same-sex marriage is a lot like a Prop. 215 card: it may look pretty on paper, but in the eyes of the Feds, it’s worthless.
Some people are erroneously claiming that they are being asked to “lie” on the census form if they are in same-sex marriages. This is not the case. People can (and in my opinion should) state that they are married if they are in state-recognized marriages. Yes, the census software is going to change that to “unmarried partners,” but that information will still be out there.
Now, a lot of people are reading this as “the government is ignoring gays, and they will magically go away.” And yes, there is some politics involved at the census. But, honestly, the census wants to collect valid, useful demographic information about people living in the United States, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many people there are irritated that same-sex marriages aren’t being counted.
This is a pretty classic case of people not fully understanding what is going on, or understanding things selectively to feed whatever their agenda may be. The thing is, same-sex marriages can’t be counted under federal law. So instead of getting all riled up at the census for marginalizing people in same-sex marriages, we need to be repealing DOMA, so that when the census happens again in 2020, same-sex marriages will be counted.