Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex couples who live together will be defined as "unmarried partners" in the 2010 U.S. Census. Their children will be counted as belonging to single parents, even if the couples are legally wed in a state that permits them to do so. If the partners list themselves as wife and wife or husband and husband, the final results will still list them as "unmarried partners." (The census will retain their original answers, though, offering a slim hope for being counted through the work of resourceful doctoral students or an organization like the Williams Institute at UCLA.)
That much has already been reported. There are some other difficulties with the Census and same-sex parents, however, that no one has spotted yet. Let's say you're a couple in a state that allows both same-sex parents to go on the child's birth certificate without needing an adoption. (Doing an adoption as well is a good idea for when you travel, but let's say you haven't done this yet, or have, but don't consider yourself an "adoptive" parent to the child you planned with your partner from the start.)
The 2010 Census questions ask about the first person in the household. For each additional person, they ask, "How is this person related to Person 1? Mark ONE box."
OK, let's play. How would you mark this if you are the non-biological parent, answering the question about your child:
- Husband or wife
- Biological son or daughter
- Adopted son or daughter
- Stepson or stepdaughter
- Brother or sister
- Father or mother
- Son-in-law or daughter-in-law
- Other relative
- Roomer or boarder
- Housemate or roommate
- Unmarried partner
- Other nonrelative
That's right. There is no appropriate way for a non-biological parent to indicate their child, even if they are legally on the child's birth certificate, unless they have done an adoption and are willing to identify as an adoptive parent. (Not that there's anything wrong with being an adoptive parent—far from it—but there's a difference between adopting a child from outside of one's family and being forced to adopt the child one has planned from the start with a partner. From a demographic and sociological perspective, that's useful information.) Let's also not forget that adoption is not an option for non-biological parents in a growing number of states.
[Update: A commenter over at my Mombian blog pointed out that a non-bio mom could in theory choose "Other relative" to indicate her child, but that still seems rather insulting as well as fuzzy demographically.]
As James Withers notes at 365gay.com, it's too late to do anything about the 2010 Census, but we can start agitating for the act of Congress that is needed to change the questions for 2020. We need to repeal DOMA, too, of course, but we should separately make sure that same-sex families with children are counted as families, whether the parents are legally wed or not.