The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) plans to release data on same-sex couples who tick the -˜married’ box on the 2011 national census.

Previously same-sex couples who tried to declare a legal marriage conducted overseas in countries like Canada or the Netherlands were counted as de facto.

Head of the ABS Population Census Branch Paul Lowe emailed lobby group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) last week, confirming that same-sex partnerships would be counted separately as marriages and de facto relationships.

The count of people in same-sex relationships who tick the -˜husband or wife of person 1′ box at question five will be made available as a part of the standard output from the 2011 Census, he said.

ABS Census Products and Service director Jenny Telford said the ABS was not entering the debate about legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Australia.

What we’re releasing is people who fill out their census form and tick that they’re a husband and wife relationship in a same-sex couple -” we’re just releasing the results as people put it on the census form, she told the Star.

Since 1996 we’ve produced data of people in households that identify themselves as same-sex and in a relationship. We’ve made that available for a while, but the key difference this time is the fact that we’re releasing the output as stated on the census form when people tick the husband and wife category.

AME national convenor Peter Furness welcomed the decision, saying it gave married same-sex couples the ability to stand up and be counted, despite the ban on same-sex marriage in Australia.

The Rudd Government may choose to bury its head in the sand and pretend same-sex marriages don’t exist, but clearly the ABS will not, he said.

NSW GLRL co-convenor Emily Gray welcomed the inclusion, however, she stressed the census should also count Australians’ sexuality identity.

At the moment it’s the most glaring absence in the census. The Australian Human Rights Commission in its 2007 Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report said there are over 20,000 same-sex couples living in Australia. We know that is a huge underestimation, but the reason they relied on it is because it came from the ABS, she said.

We can do all the surveys we want, but we’re never going to get an accurate picture of the number and breadth of our community unless a question is included in the census. It’s not just important for lobbying purposes, it’s also important for health data in Australia.

Following the release of the 2006 census data, an ABS spokeswoman explained same-sex couples who declared themselves married were counted as de facto because of the Marriage Act definitions. It would be unrealistic to expect the ABS’s standards and classifications to provide a view contrary to federal legislation, she said at the time.

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