Census to count same-sex couples for first time

The 2020 census will for the first time allow respondents to specify whether they are living with a partner of the same sex.

A spokesman for the Census Bureau confirmed to NBC News that a question about household formation had been expanded to include the possibility of same-sex spouses and unmarried partners.

“As our population and communities change, so do their needs,” the spokesperson said. “To better collect more detailed data about types of coupled households, the Census Bureau expanded the single response option of ‘husband or wife’ or ‘unmarried partner’ to the two response options of ‘opposite-sex husband/wife/spouse’ and ‘same-sex husband/wife/spouse,’ and ‘opposite-sex unmarried partner’ and ‘same-sex unmarried partner.’”

Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman, “furthered the need” to revise the census to include same-sex couples, the spokesperson continued.

Meghan Maury, policy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, praised the move as a “step in the right direction.” She said the question will “capture more nuanced data” about gay families and will have a lower error rate than other surveys.

She expressed disappointment with the bureau’s decision not to expand the survey to ask respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Because the revised question only concerns household formation, the census will not count the number of gay and transgender people in the U.S., or same-sex couples who are not living together or married.

“This is not the universe of LGBT or even L and G,” D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center, told NBC. “Only people who are couples, and for that matter, couples in the same household, are counted.”

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