Over 8,000 same sex couples have married in Massachusetts since it was legalized in May, 2004. Marital status is a question the Census asks of all householders – and it, like other Census questions, is self-defined. Heterosexual couples who say they are married, even if they have not legally done so, are treated as common law marriages. Same Sex couples, however, even when legally married, are never treated as such. In Census 2010 and in the ongoing American Community Survey, the Census Bureau, according to Martin O’Connell, Chief of the Fertility and Family Branch, intends to change the data gathered from married (same sex) couples, and reassign them to unmarried partner status. They will do this in the initial “clean up” of the data, when they make corrections of obvious errors – like a person who is 16, but says s/he was born in 1896 not 1996. The true data will not be available (even to researchers using PUMS, or through special tabulations) because it will have been “edited” – and the Census Bureau does not release unedited data.
We will not be able to get accurate information about the number of married (same sex) couples and families. And very importantly — we will not have accurate information about the poverty status of gay and lesbian families. The Census Bureau determines poverty at the family level – and unmarried same sex partners are not, and cannot be, family. Married same sex couples with children will appear as a one parent family – the married spouse completely disappears. We will not be to track information about married versus non-married same sex couples, nor have accurate information about gay and lesbian family composition and socio-economic characteristics.
This is an example of politics creating a fiction. It creates gross inaccuracies in the data, and denies the reality that same sex married couples, with or without children, are family.