Same sex couple Olga Miranda (R) and Matilde Custodio (L) hold their daughter Carolina during a walk, February 23, 2014.
Photo by Patricia de Melo Moreira/Getty

Gay couples count as families, Census Bureau says

If there’s one resounding takeaway from the domino-like legalization of marriage equality over the last year, it’s this: gay couples count.

Their relationships count, their constitutional rights count, their suffering counts, their children count. Now, that message has once again been affirmed in the most literal way imaginable.

For the first time in history, married same-sex couples will be counted as families by the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the Washington Post, which first reported the change this week, the 2013 American Community Survey results – due in September – will include an estimated 180,000 same-sex married couples with statistics on the nation’s 56 million families.

Over the last decade, data on same-sex couples had been segregated from the broader research on families, and the Census had categorized same-sex spouses as unmarried partners. While the shift isn’t expected to have a significant impact on statistics, it does reflect a growing acceptance of full civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans, and lends greater legitimacy to their unions.

“I think the American public already thinks same-sex married couples are families, and the Census Bureau is just catching up with public opinion,” Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies families, told the Washington Post.

The move comes nearly one year after the nation’s highest court brought an end to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and cleared the way for federal agencies to begin recognizing same-sex nuptials. In addition to the Census Bureau, the IRS, Treasury, State, Defense, and Justice Departments all updated their policies regarding same-sex marriage.

The DOMA ruling also set off an unprecedented expansion of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, bringing the total number of states where they can wed to 19, plus the District of Columbia. Federal judges have also struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, and Utah, though their decisions are on hold pending appeals.

North Dakota is currently the only state without a challenge to its same-sex marriage ban.