Gay Marriage and Illegal Immigration Questions on 2020 Census Cause Stir

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Source: Samantha Manzella, “The 2020 Census WILL Ask about Same-Sex Relationships,”, Apr. 5, 2018

For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau will count same-sex couples for the first time and will ask all households about their US citizenship status, which hasn’t been done since the 1950 Census.

Same-Sex Marriage Question

The US Census has asked about the relationship of household members since 1880. “Unmarried partner” was added as an answer choice in 1990. However, the 2020 Census will be the first time same-sex partners will be an answer option.

Screenshot of proposed 2020 Census question
Source: Census Bureau, “Questions Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey,”, Mar. 2018

D’Vera Cohn, Senior Writer and Editor at Pew Research Center, states, “There is growing demand for good data about same-sex couples… Among the uses for the data are to study the well-being of children in different types of living arrangements and to forecast demand for benefits based on marital status.”

However, Cohn notes, “This is not the universe of LGBT or even L and G. Only people who are couples, and for that matter, couples in the same household, are counted.” So, as University of Toronto Assistant Professor of Political Science and Sexual Diversity Studies Julie Moreau, PhD, explains, “Same-sex couples who are not cohabiting would not be counted, for example. Neither would a bisexual person who lives with an opposite-sex partner or a transgender person who lives alone.”

The Census Bureau states this question is important because “Relationship data are used in planning and funding government programs that provide funds or services for families, people living or raising children alone, grandparents living with grandchildren, or other households that qualify for additional assistance.”

US Citizenship Question

The Census Bureau will ask all US residents about their citizenship on the 2020 Census. The last time all households were asked about citizenship was the 1950 Census, which asked “if foreign-born — is he naturalized?” The US Census has asked about residents’ citizenship status since 1820, with the exceptions of 1840-1860 and 1880. From the 1970 Census through the 2000 Census, some but not all residents were asked about citizenship. The 2010 Census asked about citizenship on the long form, but only distributed the short form, which did not ask about citizenship.

Screenshot of proposed 2020 Census questions
Source: Census Bureau, “Questions Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey,”, Mar. 2018

Because of President Trump’s immigration policies, some immigrants, including undocumented immigrants and immigrants in the United States on temporary resident permits, fear the information provided on census forms could be used to target, incarcerate, or deport them. Former Census Bureau Director and Rice University sociologist Steve Murdock, PhD, says the citizenship question is controversial because, “it will have the effect of suppressing the count and it will lead people to try to stay out of the Census rather than get in it.”

Legally, a “72-Year Rule” prevents personally-identifying information given on a census form from being made public for 72 years after the census. However, the Census Bureau disclosed confidential information about Japanese Americans during World War II, which may have led to their internment.

Jennifer Lynne Van Hook, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Demography at Pennsylvania State University, added “If the census counts are biased or flawed, this could affect the number of representatives states have in the House of Representatives” and “if adding the citizenship question reduces coverage of the foreign-born population, it could reduce the amount of federal and state resources allocated to communities that have large shares of immigrants.”

The Census Bureau states that it needs citizenship information to “enforce voting rights law” because “knowing how many people reside in the community and knowing how many of those people are citizens… provides statistical information that helps the government enforce… the Voting Rights Act.”


Census Bureau, “Questions Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey,”, Mar. 2018

D’Vera Cohn, “2020 Census Will Ask about Same-Sex Marriages for the First Time,”, Apr. 10, 2018

Julie Moreau, “In a First, 2020 Census to Count Same-Sex Couples,”, Apr. 24, 2018

Miriam Valverde, “What You Need to Know about the Census’ Citizenship Question,”, Mar. 28, 2018

Hansi Lo Wang, “2020 Census Will Ask about Same-Sex Relationships,”, Mar. 30, 2018