- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) — While the number of same-sex couples in the United States appears to be soaring, the increase may actually be due to a change in policy at the U.S. Census Bureau.
Ten years ago, when the agency was compiling data for the 1990 census, most same-sex couples who identified themselves as "spouses" — a legal impossibility — were "reallocated" to more traditional relationships.
For example, some couples were reclassified as siblings or roommates, while others were designated as parent and child if their age difference exceeded 15 years. The majority, agency officials admit, were most likely reclassified as opposite-sex married couples, the Record of Hackensack reported in yesterday's editions.
That changed last year, when the Census Bureau decided to reclassify all same-sex "spouse" responses to "unmarried partner."
The new classification caused the reported number of homosexual households to increase by 700 percent in Delaware and Nevada, while the rate jumped by more than 600 percent in Alabama.
New York and Connecticut saw increases of more than 200 percent. New Jersey is among the 20 or so states where numbers have not yet been released.
"What happened in 1990 is outrageous, though it's not surprising considering the political climate," said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.
"Whether it was malice or ignorance that prompted them to 'reallocate' us, the outcome was the same. It kept gays invisible, and that's offensive," said Mr. Smith, whose Washington-based group is the nation's largest homosexual political organization.
Nothing on the census form asks about sexual orientation. But in 1990, the government for the first time tried to measure the number of homosexual households.
Agency officials say the "reallocations" of same-sex couples occurred when respondents checked off "spouse" instead of "unmarried partner," an option added that year.
At the time, no state recognized as legal a "marriage" between two people of the same sex, so the census computer was programmed to reject same-sex spouse responses as illogical and mistaken.
The computers changed "inconsistent answers" to match those of neighbors in the "closely proximate geographic area." For example, homosexual "spouses" in Greenwich Village may have been reclassified as unmarried partners, while those in Saddle River became husband and wife.
Martin O'Connell, chief of the bureau's fertility and family statistics branch, said the census has no idea how many of the 1990 respondents identified themselves as same-sex spouses, and no idea how those respondents were subsequently redistributed.
"I would have to reprocess the entire 1990 census to know that," Mr. O'Connell said. "To find out how each person was moved from one answer to another would be an extraordinarily difficult task."
Therefore, it is impossible to know how much of the increase in homosexual households was due to the Census Bureau's handling of such relationships in 1990 and how much was the result of homosexuals' willingness to report their living arrangements more honestly 10 years later.
On Friday, more than two weeks after the agency released its first counts of same-sex households, it issued a "technical note" warning that comparisons between 1990 and 2000 were "not substantively valid" due to "differences in data processing."

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