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U.S. Census to Begin Counting Same-Sex Couples in 2020

An LGBTQ advocate called the decision a "step in the right direction" but said more changes were needed.

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For the first time ever, the U.S. Census Bureau will recognize and count same-sex couples in the upcoming 2020 Census. A major step towards equality for America’s LGBTQ community, the Census Bureau submitted its proposed questions to Congress and included an expansion of the standard relationship question. Now gay and lesbian couples can select “same-sex husband/wife/spouse” and “same-sex unmarried partner,” similar to the options for opposite-sex couples.

“As our population and communities change, so do their needs,” a Census Bureau spokesperson told NBC News in an email. “To better collect more detailed data about types of coupled households, the Census Bureau expanded the single response option of ‘husband or wife’ or ‘unmarried partner’ to the two response options of ‘opposite-sex husband/wife/spouse’ and ‘same-sex husband/wife/spouse,’ and ‘opposite-sex unmarried partner’ and ‘same-sex unmarried partner.’”

While gay marriage was legalized back in 2015 with the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision, the questions have never been changed until now. Meghan Maury, policy director at the National LGBTQ Task Force and a member of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, said the bureau’s decision represents “a step in the right direction” that will help “capture more nuanced data with a much lower error rate.” Still, she noted that it was “nowhere near what we’d love to have one day.”

Maury and other LGBTQ advocates were hoping for the Census Bureau to include questions about both sexual orientation and gender identity in the upcoming Census. The Bureau announced last year, however, that there was no “federal data need” to include those questions.