Same-sex couples and their families will now be part of the U.S. Census Bureau reporting. The 2013 American Community Survey results, which will be released in September, will mark the first time the census integrates an estimated 180,000 same-sex married couples with statistics concerning the nation’s 56 million families, according to the Washington Post. Until now, they had been categorized as unmarried partners, even when couples reported themselves as spouses.
Same-sex couples have been counted for almost a decade, but the statistics have not been included as part of the data on families. Instead, they have been segregated. The 2000 Census categorized all same-sex households as unmarried partners, regardless of whether the couples said they were married.
Because of the large disparity between the number of gay and straight married households, combining the two is not expected to have a significant effect on the statistics. Its significance is largely symbolic of the growing acceptance of gays in American society, reports WP.
“I think the American public already thinks same-sex married couples are families, and the Census Bureau is just catching up with public opinion,” says Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies families.
The census’ decision to change the way it tracks same-sex households comes off the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, the case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which prevented same-sex couples who are married and living in one of the 12 freedom to marry states and the District of Columbia, to be eligible for some 1,100 federal protections, rights, and benefits afforded all other married couples.
Typically, the Census Bureau undertakes years of consultation and testing before it adds or alters the wording of a question. For instance, the census didn’t account for unmarried couples living together in a separate category until 1990.
“Given the changes in living arrangements, we probably could have used that category in 1970,” says Rose Kreider, chief of the fertility and family statistics branch of the Census Bureau. “The legalization of same-sex marriage is fairly recent. You can never say a bureaucracy moves quickly, but we’re not as far behind as we could be.”
The census is testing questions that they hope to introduce in surveys — but not until 2016. People will be given four explicit options to check about their relationship — opposite-sex spouses, opposite-sex unmarried partners, same-sex spouses or same-sex partners. They also will be asked whether they are in a registered domestic partnership or a civil union.
“We’re trying to make changes that reflect what’s happening with American families,” Kreider says. “We’ve been working on it for some years, and we’re continuing to work on it to improve the measurement of American families and emerging family forms.”