Here's why the federal Defense of Marriage Act has to go. The U.S. Census Bureau, hiding behind DOMA, will edit the responses given by same-sex couples in California and Massachusetts (as well as any other states that may legalize marriage equality by then).
Even though thousands of couples will have legal civil marriage certificates, they will be reported in statistics that will be relied upon by demographers and agencies as "unmarried partners." Politicizing the census with bad data is unacceptable.
The Census Bureau does not ask about sexual orientation, but it does ask people to describe their relationships to others in their household. If a respondent refers to a person of the same gender as their "husband/wife" on the 2010 census form, the Census Bureau will automatically assign them to the "unmarried partner" category. Legally married same-sex couples will be indistinguishable in census data from those who chose "unmarried partner" to describe their relationship.
... Critics say the census plan will mask the records of legal, same-sex, married couples and therefore degrade the quality of the government's demographic data.
"I just think it's bad form for the census to change a legal response to an incorrect response," said Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles law school that studies gay-related public policy issues. "That goes against everything the census stands for."
Gates, a prominent demographer who was consulted by Census Bureau officials about counting legally married same-sex couples, said one result is that the census will undercount marriages in states with gay marriage. And because the bureau defines a "family" as two or more people related by birth, adoption or marriage, it also will remove many same-sex married couples from being counted as families.
"It's a systematic hiding not only of married gay couples, but gay couples as families, which I would argue is a fundamentally political decision," Gates said.
Of course this raises the question of civil unions and domestic partners as well -- they are in a netherworld of being "unmarried" and unable to check married for the purpose of the census, further confusing and skewing data.
I have to think that this will end up in court; the excuses given -- that it's too late to change the forms and buck current federal law -- don't make sense. We're only talking two states with legal same-sex marriage now. What if we had 10 states that legalized it? 20? How many states would need to have marriage equality to reach the tipping point for our government to decide it needs accurate data?