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March 12, 2010

Census to count married gay couples for the first time

For the first time, the U.S. Census will count married same-sex couples, and give all couples the chance to be counted as married, whether they have a valid marriage license or not.

Advocates say the count has a big impact on LGBT economic security and political clout, and that extra effort should be made to ensure that couples, especially, are counted.

Same-sex couples can be counted as either spouses or unmarried partners, and the census will not question any same-sex couple identifying as married, even if they live in a state where marriage is not recognized.

A marriage license is not necessary, says Our Families Count, a group formed to promote LGBT participation in the census. If the couple considers themselves married, the census will record it that way.

The census form asks you to list the person who owns or rents the house as �Person 1� and then indicate how everyone else in the household is related to �Person 1.� The second household member may be described as �husband,� �wife,� or �unmarried partner,� at the discretion of the person filling out the form.

The census is also indifferent to immigration status. Everyone living in the home should be counted on the form.

The Constitution requires that every person in the nation be counted every ten years, to set the number of representatives that each state gets in the U.S. House. The census is also used to apportion state and local districts, and guide planners on where tax money should be spent and infrastructure located.

In 2000, the census counted same-sex couples for the first time, but there was no such thing as same-sex marriage then. Now, five states and the District of Columbia have full marriage, as do seven other nations including Canada.

The census still does not count sexual orientation or gender identity, so unpartnered people are not counted as LGBT. However, the counting of couples gives demographers a clearer picture of how many LGBT Americans there are.

The �unmarried partner� option first appeared in 1990, primarily to find out how many unmarried heterosexual couples were living together. While same-sex partners could also mark this box, the option wasn�t publicized and the information was only released in data for researchers, not summaries for the media.

In 2000, the option was publicized and same-sex couples were part of the official counts released to the media.

While the 1990 count reported that 24 of Ohio�s 88 counties had no lesbian and gay couples at all, the 2000 one showed every Ohio county had gay or lesbian couples, even the smallest county had 15. It also quadrupled the number of same-sex couples in the state.

The 2000 census proved that same-sex couples live in every county in the nation.

Still, the number of couples in the 2000 count is said to have been too low, based on other statistical models.

The 2010 census seeks to correct that through outreach to the LGBT community.

LGBT advocates are also promoting census participation and encouraging same-sex couples to be counted. Couples are encouraged to describe their relationship on the census form in the same way as they describe themselves to others.

The census ensures confidentiality. No individual census data are shared with the Immigration and Naturalization Service or any other government agency, or used for law enforcement purposes. By law, only the broad statistical numbers are published.

Census forms will begin arriving by mail in mid-March. Households not returning the form will be visited by a census taker.

Additional information on LGBT participation in the 2010 Census can be found at




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