The Census Bureau, which struggles to keep up with the rapid changes in American life, is about to start categorizing same-sex married couples as families.
The 2013 American Community Survey results, which will be reported 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. Until now, they had been categorized as unmarried partners, even when couples reported themselves as spouses.
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 that scholars and planners use to analyze how families are changing. Its significance is largely symbolic of the growing acceptance of gays in American society.
“I think the American public already thinks same-sex married couples are families, and the Census Bureau is just catching up with public opinion,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies families.
The Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, paved the way for the census to change the way it tracks same-sex households after years of discussions about doing so.
“Windsor didn’t obligate us to do anything,” said Rose Kreider, chief of the fertility and family statistics branch of the Census Bureau. “But it in some ways made it easier to say: It’s legally recognized federally, so it’s time for us to throw them in with all married couples.”
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