Friday, April 10, 2009

Making gay marriage count

With Iowa becoming the fourth state in the US to legalize gay marriage, it would seem reasonable to assume that the number of married couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) would increase. Unfortunately, when it does, the federal government won't (officially) take notice. The reason for this, is that the Census Bureau--the government's statistical agency--can't legally count these couples as married:
The federal law banning gay marriage bars the agency from counting same-sex marriages, the Census Bureau says, even though they are legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and, most recently, Vermont and Iowa.

Last summer, census officials announced that legally married same-sex couples would be reported as unmarried, same-sex partners.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act allows states to refuse recognition of gay marriages from other states, and bars the federal government from recognizing gay couples as "married". This means that when legally married gay couples are surveyed by the Census Bureau, their answers to questions pertaining to marital status will be recoded by Census Bureau statisticians.

It's not all that uncommon for research to be subject to political pressures. But the purpose of the Census Bureau is to be the nation's "leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy". It's hard to fulfill this role when you're legally bound to deny reality.

And it's not as if this issue is going away anytime soon. According to polling and statistics expert Nate Silver, a majority of states could oppose gay marriage bans by 2012. Momentum is on the side of greater freedom and equality and if the Census Bureau wants to accurately measure marriage rates in the US, they will have to count gay married couples sooner or later.

Fortunately, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are advocating for equality and for sanity:
"Although we understand that federal law may not recognize same-sex marriages for the purposes of administration of federal benefits programs," they wrote, "we do not believe it prevents the Census Bureau from reporting statistics from the forms of self-identifying same-sex couples married under state law, like all married couples."

No comments: