Same-sex couples filling out the 2010 Census questionnaire this week can identify themselves as either unmarried partners or married -- whether married legally or not -- and have confidence that their unions will show up in the statistics, U.S. Census Bureau officials say.
Activists and a handful of people unsure how to classify their families attended an informational meeting at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday evening to learn what to say. Census Bureau Utah office manager Todd Hansen told them that this year, unlike censuses past, it's up to them.
Computers tallying the numbers after the 2000 count stumbled on forms showing a man married to a man or a woman to a woman, Hansen said, and those marriages didn't count. This time the machines are programmed to accept either marriage or unmarried partnerships.
"These relationship questions are self-defined," Hansen said. "If your perception of the relationship is husband and wife, then that is the correct answer."
Activists believe it's important that the census accurately show how many people are in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. A larger showing, whether nationally or locally, could help identify needs for social programs or funding to help community members, said Michael Westley, a spokesman for the Utah Pride Center.
It's also a matter of political clout for a group that wants marriage rights, Westley said.
"Can we please at least be asked if we're here " he said.
That's a question for Congress, next time around. Hansen told the audience that at the direction of the Constitution, it's the job of Congress to write the questions every 10 years. If people want a clear sexuality question on the 2020 questionnaire, he said, they need to start asking for it soon.
Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken said it's important for people to get involved asking for such a question. She noted that in the 1960 Census there were only eight race categories, compared to 26 plus a write-in space on this year's form. Perhaps a write-in space also would suit questions of sexuality, she said.
The Census Bureau's yearly American Community Survey, a sampling of the population characteristics between the larger 10-year counts, puts Utah's same-sex partnership figures at about 5,000.
Salt Lake City resident Jeremiah Maybee attended Tuesday's meeting and afterward said he'll identify his same-sex relationship as "unmarried partners."
"At least it's a start" toward understanding the numbers, he said.
The Wasatch Front and Utah as whole are trending slightly ahead of the nation in mailing back census questionnaires, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As of Tuesday, 53 percent of Utah households who received the form had returned it, according to a U.S. Census Bureau tracking site: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/. Nationwide the rate was 50 percent.
Several rural counties were lagging far behind in response rates.
Census officials say mail-in responses are key to keeping taxpayer costs down, since every home that does not respond requires a visit from a census taker. Tuesday is the deadline.