Dana Rudolph

U.S. Census and Same-Sex Families: Epic Fail

Filed By Dana Rudolph | March 11, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Census 2010, demographics survey, u.s. census, US Census

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
  • Grandchild
  • Parent-in-law
  • 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.

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And what about families like *ours*? My wife and I got married before her SRS--which makes us legally married, unless someone decides to contest our marriage and wins. So either my WIFE has to say that she is "male" (which she is not) or our marriage, which is legal in all 50 states, just get fraudulently misreported by the census taker?

Keep in mind that I have no qualms about being considered a same-sex couple, which we are, but we are also *legally married in all 50 states*--and the census taker will be instructed to FRAUDULENTLY change our marital status? Really? Did my wife stop being a loving spouse or step-parent to my kids when she had SRS?


Excellent point, Susan.

I think, in fact, there are a whole host of issues related to non-traditional families that the Census doesn't cover. A commenter at Mombian pointed out that even opposite-sex couples who had fertility problems and used a sperm donor would have trouble indicating the dad's relationship to the child. "Biological child"? Nope. "Adoptive child"? Nope. "Other relative"? Yes, but that makes the whole relationship invisible, as it does for lesbian non-bio moms.

Of course, the invisibility problem is greater overall for LGBT families, but I think it behooves us to find allies if we're going to push for change in 2020. The Census is behind the times in all kinds of ways.

Everyday Transperson | March 12, 2009 11:59 AM

2020 is 11 years from now.............How about change NOW ???
I suppose it takes that long to gain "allies" in the corporate and political arena. After all, those systems tend to run VERY slow these days anyway, don't they ??

I am with you, Everyday Transperson. My wife drives our kids to school every day, bakes cookies for school bake sales, helps with homework and does everything else that every other mom does; our kids don't even make the distinction that she is their "stepmother"--she is simply one of their moms, period. By the next census, our kids will be over 18, so in effect, the census bureau is invalidating that she is their other parent, period--just as is happening to every other same-sex couple who's kids will be over 18 by 2020.

Perhaps, however, those families where one parent is trans (or as in our case, step-parent who married the biological parent before SRS), might be in a strategically better position: Since they ARE biological parents or step-parents (as legally recognized in all 50 states), could our families sue or otherwise legally challenge the Census Bureau for fraudulently reporting our data? Does anyone know?

Other folks have been fighting the census fight for a few years now...

Unfortunately they only do the census every 10 years - it's 2010 and 2020 as the only options. Since they've shut down any changes to the 2010 census early last year. (It takes time to print the forms, train the workers, get all the auxiliary equipment and forms and papers put together, etc.)

While it's easy to demand change NOW, it's too late on this go-round. At this point, demanding change on the next large census (2020) and the smaller updates and samples they do occasionally in between are our best and only options.

But you're right, ET; establishing closer relationships will allies will help to move us forward. Good idea for one way to push the ball forward. :)

It just sucks that this census won't include us. F--king George Bush strikes again.

I may have posted this here before, but here is how some people online have discussed responding to this legal exclusion:

In a commited relationship? -
File taxes as a married couple.
On the 2010 Census check off MARRIED.

Whether in business or personal relationships, one adage rings true:

TEACH government HOW to treat you.

Everyday Transperson | March 12, 2009 2:48 PM

A few points to raise here,

Yes, the census is only performed every 10 years, but that doesn't mean that we have to wait that long to get things done........

Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but if the GLBT community can organize and implement nationwide demonstrations and anti- right wing lobbying organizations quickly in a few short months when it came to the gay marriage thing, then I don't see why it should take any less for our "leaders" to call whoever is in charge of the census bureau, plan some meetings with GLBT folks from ALL aspects of the community along with the census folks and see if they can start getting them to do small statistical reports in the interim that, to date, have no statistical data associated with the GLBT community...........At least they could be doing that and having it published in the media until 2020 comes up with the real "official" changes coming then....

Sorry to disappoint Mr. Browning, but the idea of establishing closer relationships with allies wasn't my idea. I believe Ms. Rudolph originally introduced the idea in one of her comments above......Often times, I tend to reiterate ideas such as those in my writing to emphasize a counterpoint, which in this case, I am opposed to the current system in which "allies" are recruited and who they are recruiting. Sorry for the confusion.:)

"Too late" ???? Rubbish... When it comes to our rights as a community it is never too late, its only not soon enough if we want it bad enough.......

Where there is a will and passion, there is a way !!

As soon as I read the article, I was thinking of people in Susan F's situation, and then I read her comment. How the census will treat legally married same-sex couples and legally married couples like Susan F. is a travisty.

I think that when are filling out the census, in the section called "Race," mark "Other, then fill in your race AND say "Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Transsexual, Bisexual." They may ignore the other words, but it's something to try.

Name: Monica F. Helms, Transsexual Woman.
Sex: Other

There is always places to comment in the margins.

Monica, that is an interesting approach. I think I might just try that.

As a side note, I can just picture my wife making margin notes. Makes me kind of pity the census taker!

Maybe we need to start a movement called, screwwiththecensus.org. We have a lot of issues the 2010 Census refuses to cover, so let's screw with them. (I was thinking of replacing "screw" with the "F"-word, but I decided against it.) We can cross off the printed selections and put in the ones that apply to us. We can fill in different information in the "Other" selections and write information in the margins. Here's what the census will NOT cover:

-- Same-sex couples legally married in the states that allow that.
-- Same-sex couples that have civil unions in some states.
-- Same-sex couples whose domestic partnership is recognized.
-- Same-sex couples legally married in a foreign country.
-- Legally married couples where one partner transitioned.
-- Children of same-sex couples having two parents.
-- Children of a couple where one parent transitioned having two parents.
-- A person’s sexual orientation.
-- A person’s gender identity and expression.

I’m sure there will be more that can be added. We need to start this movement, and if it takes off, the Census will be so intimidated on all the extra work we will create that they may make changes to accommodate us. We will cause them to work harder or they will change the census forms. Either way, we win. Someone care to buy the web address and create the web site? I can help in writing the description and publicizing the site and issue. It will not take much money, no donations and no local chapters. But, we can do rallies. Well?

Interesting, but maybe we shouldn't be approaching this from the viewpoint that it's a validation of relationships, that it's "insulting" or affirming or anything else. Since it is just the census, which isn't about individual value judgments.

Instead, we should focus on why this distorts the data and decreases its sociological value, because they keep on saying that DOMA prevents any recognition of same-sex relationships, but there are plenty of federally-funded research projects going on that recognize that.

If this is more like a research project and less like the recognition of a relationship, then I think they'd be more likely to do it.

Monica, I think you're right on with the list of the things the Census doesn't recognize. Alex makes a very good point, too, that sticking with a more dispassionate approach may in fact get us further. Focusing on the relationships runs us right up against DOMA--and while we should confront that in other ways, we may be able to do an end-run around it here. (And thus collect the data we need to then feed back into the DOMA fight.)

The nice thing about the comment section of blogs is that they can turn into a brainstorming session. Brainstorming is like cooking spaghetti. You keep throwing some against the wall until it finally sticks. That means it's ready. Still cooking.

Love the analogy!

Any demographers in the crowd who could weigh in here?