SPRIGG: Marriage law doesn’t count at Census Bureau

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“I’m gay, I’m in charge, and I don’t care what the law is.” That’s not exactly what Census Bureau official Timothy P. Olson said on April 5 - but it might as well have been. Mr. Olson, assistant division chief for the Field Division of the Census Bureau, held a press conference in New York on Monday to introduce public-service announcements encouraging LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Americans to participate in the census.

That’s not so controversial - the census is supposed to count everyone. More disturbing, though, is that the Census Bureau is actively encouraging same-sex couples to report on the census form that they are “married.”

That’s not just controversial - it’s against the law.

The law in question is the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This 1996 law was passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress (342-67 in the House; 85-14 in the Senate) and signed into law by President Clinton.

Here is exactly what DOMA says about the federal government’s definition of marriage: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The Census Bureau is ignoring this law. In a publication in March, the bureau said, “The 2010 Census will be the first to report counts of both same-sex partners and same-sex spouses.” But there is no such thing as a “same-sex spouse” under federal law. The publication goes on to say, “Same-sex couples who are married, or consider themselves to be spouses, can identify one other adult as a ‘husband or wife.’ ” However, the Census Bureau is forbidden to refer to same-sex couples as “married” or to identify a same-sex partner as a “husband or wife.” The language of DOMA is very explicit on all these points.

What Mr. Olson of the Census Bureau actually said was, “We’ve been very public about our interaction with the gay community. I’m a gay man, and I head up the overall program.” Regarding the data on same-sex couples, Mr. Olson said, “The [George W. Bush] administration was very firm that the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited the Census Bureau from releasing any information about same-sex couples. The new administration reversed that.”

Mr. Olson is wrong about “releasing any information about same-sex couples.” The 2000 census released very interesting information about same-sex couples - classifying them as “unmarried partners.” That’s what the Census Bureau should say in its instructions: “Federal law does not recognize same-sex ‘marriages,’ so same-sex couples must mark the box that says ‘unmarried partners.’ ”

The “new administration” has no power to unilaterally “reverse” statutory law. In fact, it is encouraging LGBT respondents to violate the law. Under the United States Code, anyone who “willfully gives any answer that is false” on the census form can be fined up to $500. While prosecution of same-sex couples who call themselves married is highly unlikely, it is shocking that the Census Bureau is encouraging such behavior - even by people who are not legally married anywhere but merely “consider themselves to be spouses.”

Like Mr. Olson in New York, the Census Bureau’s “national LGBT partnership liaison,” Che Ruddell-Tabisola, was pushing same-sex “marriage” in Kansas City. Defending the idea of answering on the basis of self-identification alone, he said, “The bottom line is, this is your census.”

He’s wrong. According to the Constitution, the census is to be carried out “in such manner as [Congress] shall by law direct.” Congress has passed a law defining marriage for all federal agencies. It is the Census Bureau’s job to obey it.

Peter Sprigg is a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.

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