Monday, July 6, 2009

Census Bureau Struggles to Update Software to Count Same-Sex Married Couples

Since the Obama administration ordered that same-sex couples be counted in the 2010 census for the first time ever, the Census Bureau has been struggling to update its software to include the change and is facing many obstacles.

Starting in 2000, whenever someone reported being married to someone of the same gender, the census software automatically registered them as "unmarried partner."

With six states now recognizing same-sex marriages and government lawyers stating that DOMA does not restrict the marriages from being counted, the Census Bureau faces a challenge.

USA Today reports that the challenges include:

• Changing the software that processes Census questionnaires so that it doesn't automatically convert same-sex married couples to unmarried partners. Census is not confident it can make the change by 2010.

• The federal marriage act may not apply to the Census but it does apply to every other federal agency that uses Census data to dole out federal funds and enforce fair housing and equal opportunity laws.

• Any change in the way the Census is tabulated has a domino effect on most other data collected. Counting same-sex couples as married stretches the definition of family. Data used by all federal agencies — from family income to family size — would have to be reclassified.

"We know for certain the vast majority (of same-sex couples) are not legally married," says Gary Gates, demographer at UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, told USA Today.

Gates estimates 35,000 same-sex couples are married, but recent surveys show that 10 times as many report that they are.

How the Census will report its findings is still to be decided. "This is an important issue and legitimate question that we're working to resolve," said Nick Kimball, spokesman for the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.

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