The next Australian Census could include same-sex couples, married and de facto, as part of the freely available release of trends and populations.
A review of the questions and procedures for 2011 will look at improving identification and classification of differing family types, such as those of the gay and lesbian community.
Recognition of children adopted by step-parents in a same-sex relationship are also among the possible changes to be investigated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
A spokeswoman for the ABS said the review was about identifying emerging information needs, but no changes to the relationship data were yet developed.
“If the submission process identifies an increasing need for data on same-sex couples and their family relationships then the ABS will investigate the means by which this need can be met,” she said.
The number of same-sex couples recognised as de facto dramatically jumped between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses – presumed to reflect a growing willingness for recognition rather than an increase in the total number of gay couples.
Several gay and lesbian couples and individuals refused to participate in the 2006 Census’s relationship component because it discriminated against their relationships.
Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Peter Furness and his husband were part of the civil disobedience, for the specific issue of having their marriage recognised.
“The issue is with the way same-sex marriages were counted. If both indicated you were of the same sex [and married] they were going to automatically reclassify you as being in a de facto relationship,” Furness said.
Seventeen days after Census Day, the head of census Paul Williams agreed that the reclassification could be offensive and agreed to provide a separate count of same-sex couples who’d indicated they were in a same-sex marriage.
Activists claimed they were offered the count for a cost of $405. But the ABS refused to supply that count to Sydney Star Observer.
“The number will still be inaccurate because when the forms were going out they were telling people not to fill it in that way,” Furness said.
“If you were married, too bad, you had to tick de facto.”
In 2001 the ABS invented the term “social marriage” as distinct from legal marriage following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands.
“It would be unrealistic to expect the ABS’s standards and classifications to provide a view contrary to federal legislation,” the ABS spokeswoman said.
But the public wouldn’t be wasting its time making a submission to the review seeking recognition of differing relationship types.
“There are two separate issues here: same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. The ABS acknowledges there is an increasing interest for information relating to same-sex relationships and related data such as family structures,” the spokeswoman said.
“How well the Census is able to assist in providing useful data is of interest to us. If on the other hand your interest is in the legality of same-sex marriage [in Australia] then obviously this isn’t an issue that the ABS can assist with.”
Submission forms for the 2011 Census review are available at www.abs.gov.au/2011censusviews and should be submitted by 31 March 2008.
Poll: Should the Census seek information on same-sex relationships? Vote at www.ssonet.com.au.

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