Gay couples unhappy with Canadian census question

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A row has broken out between Statistics Canada and gay activists over the wording of a question on the country’s census.

The results of the census, which was held in May 2006, will be released next Wednesday.

For the first time the official count will measure the number of gay and lesbian married couples in the country.

However, gay rights advocates are unhappy that same-sex married people had to register their status in the “other” box.

Gay marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005.

The country’s statistics bureau considered a range of options to record them on census forms, including the use of non gender-specific terms like ‘spouse’, which was ultimately ruled too confusing.

It is thought that many gay and lesbian married couples ignored the “other” box in protest that they were being treated differently from heterosexuals.

“I don’t think we should be a segregated group just because we’re same-sex married. Marriage is marriage,” Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, told AP.

Statistics Canada has said it will consult with LGBT groups before the next census in 2011 over the issue.

The row with gay activists mirrors discussion in the UK about the next census, also in 2011.

In April spoke to Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, who tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons asking the government to ensure that a question is asked in 2011 about sexual orientation.

“A question on sexual orientation would help to monitor equality legislation and improve service provision to lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” his motion reads.

Mr Williams, the MP for Bristol West, welcomed National Statistic’s decision to ask a question about civil partnerships, but said that is important to know how many gay people there are in the UK.

“There will always be some dispute as to the proportion of people that are gay, lesbian or bisexual – is it 5%? 8%? 10%?

“It is important that the make-up of society is understood.”

A spokesman for the ONS said: “The Office for National Statistics recognises that there is some user demand for information on sexual identity but considers that the census is not suitable for collecting information on sexual identity for the first time.

“The main priority for the Census is an accurate headcount. There are significant concerns about privacy and acceptability and the effect that such a question could have on the overall response.”

Mr Williams told

“I do not buy this argument that this is not a suitable question for the census, every census since 1901 has added questions – we now ask people about their race and even if people are white and Irish.

“In 2001 I wrote onto my census form that I am Welsh, because there was no way of recording that as I live in England, and that I am gay.”

Mr Williams said that some reluctance to answer questions on sexual orientation could be overcome by making people aware of how census data is used:

“I can understand that some people will be reluctant to disclose, but information about individuals is secret for 100 years and it is only the aggregate statistics that are published

“There is a risk of under-reporting, but a PR campaign by ONS and campaigning groups to encourage people to register would counter that.”

Final decisions on the content of the 2011 Census will not be made until the consultation and testing programme is complete and Parliament gives formal approval in 2010.

A White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals is scheduled for the next parliamentary session.

“We are looking at the feasibility of including the question (or questions) on ONS social surveys, to allow for estimates of the size and characteristics of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) population to be produced.

“We are consulting on this with government and non-governmental organisations, including representatives from LGB groups,” said an ONS spokesman.