When same-sex couples wed in California and Massachusetts, they do so believing that their marriage licenses mean that their relationships finally count in the eyes of the state. Unfortunately, they won't count in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to its mission statement, the Census Bureau "serves as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people." Well, not all of the people, it turns out. Census Bureau procedures essentially hide legally married lesbian and gay couples by altering their truthful responses about their relationship.
The Census Bureau argues that the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman for all purposes related to federal regulations -- prohibits it from recognizing same-sex marriages. For the 2010 survey, the bureau intends to maintain the policy established in 2000, whereby it will edit the responses of married same-sex couples. Same-sex spouses will be reported as "unmarried partners" in all census tabulations.
In 2000, before same-sex couples could legally marry anywhere in the U.S., the argument could be made that the bureau was changing responses to something more accurate. (In fact, that change was, at the time, viewed by many as an improvement. In 1990, the bureau edited the sex of any same-sex spouses, thereby transforming the same-sex couple into a different-sex married couple.) Rather than completely editing them out of the data, the 2000 census included them in counts of same-sex "unmarried partners." Although that decision might have been the right one then, conditions have changed.