Tags: gay | unions | census

White House Looks to Include Same Sex Unions in Census

Friday, 19 Jun 2009 12:05 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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The Census Bureau was all set to categorized spouses in same-sex marriages as unmarried partners in the 2010 census, but President Barack Obama is now directing that agency to accurately reflect couples involved in same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in the upcoming big count.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the White House has issued a memo to the Census Bureau to work up whatever new forms or new software it takes to collect the same-sex marriage data and then release it early in 2011.

The precedent-setting memo to the Census Burea was but one initiative of the Obama administration this week to start leveling the playing field for homosexual couples.

According to White House releases, President Obama has requested the Secretary of State and the director of the Office of Personnel Management to extend the benefits they have identified to the same-sex partners of Federal employees where doing so can be achieved consistent with Federal law.

Obama also requested the heads of all other executive departments and agencies to conduct a review of the benefits they administer to determine which may legally be extended to same-sex partners.

The President referred to these moves spelled out in a Presidential Memorandum as just a start on the road to reform.

“Unfortunately, my Administration is not authorized by existing Federal law to provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples,” he said. “That’s why I stand by my long-standing commitment to work with Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It’s discriminatory, it interferes with States’ rights, and it’s time we overturned it.”

The President also announced his support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009. This legislation would extend to the same-sex partners of Federal employees the same benefits already enjoyed by the opposite-sex spouses of Federal employees.

Gary Gates, an expert in gay and lesbian affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles told the WSJ that the administration’s initiatives over the week represented “a very positive step.”

Gays strongly supported Obama during the campaign but reportedly have been disappointed in the pace of executive action on the issue of discrimination. There was some sentiment that Obama should have unilaterally lifted the “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” regulation that allows gays in the military only if they are not open about their sexual orientation. Instead, the White House announced that it would let Congress take the lead in phasing out “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell.”

The Obama administration has also been under the gun to abridge the Census policy as to accounting for gay partnerships, according to the WSJ. For the 1990 count, the bureau simply altered the gender designation of one partner so as not to be inconsistent with the forms and software.

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., sent a letter this week to Obama, urging him to order the bureau to release same-sex marriage data as part of the 2010 Census report.

Last month, some 50-plus Congressmen sent a letter to White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, asking him to work with the Commerce Department to refurbish the policy.

In the past, the Census Bureau has collected data on same-sex marriages, but because of an interpretation of DOMA, such data was not released. According to the WSJ, the Obama administration no longer interprets the act in the same manner.

Congress passed DOMA in 1996. It prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages and also allows a state to ignore gay marriages performed outside its borders.

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