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S. 3314 (115th): Census Equality Act

Controversially, the Census is now asking questions about Americans’ citizenship. Should it do the same about sexual orientation and gender identity?

Context

Gallup estimates that 4.5 percent of the U.S. population identified as LGBT last year, a number rising every single year since they started the survey in 2012, because the stigma keeps lessening. And that number is as high as 8.2 percent for Millennials, also rising every single year.
 But what is the LGBT population exactly?

What the bill does

The Census Equality Act [S. 3314] would add questions to the Census asking respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
 The Census would have to begin doing so by 2030, since the upcoming 2020 Census questions were already finalized in March.
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — which is done annually instead of once per decade — would have to include the questions by 2020. That goes out to about 1 out of every 38 households, while the Census tries to count everybody.
 The bill was introduced in July by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), consider a potential presidential contender for 2020.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill would allow a major minority group in this country to be fully counted and represented by the government, in a way that racial minorities already are.
 “The spirit of the census is that no one should go uncounted and no one should be invisible,” Sen. Harris said in a press release.
“We must expand data collections efforts to ensure the LGBTQ community is not only seen, but fully accounted for in terms of government resources provided,” Harris continued. “This information can also provide us with better tools to enforce civil rights protections for a community that is too often discriminated against.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that because the Census Bureau needs a statutory basis for any new questions, Democrats are introducing this bill to create one in a way that isn’t useful for anything other than making the Democratic base happy.
 “In order for a subject to be included, there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection,” Census Bureau then-director John H. Thompson wrote in 2017.
 “We carefully considered this thoughtful request and again worked with federal agencies and the OMB Interagency Working Group on Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to determine if there was a legislative mandate to collect this data,” Thompson continued. “Our review concluded there was no federal data need to change the planned census and ACS subjects.”

Odds of passage

The bill has 18 Senate cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
 If the bill passes, the question would be added to the Census. In practice, though, any decision to add such questions to the Census would likely come not from Congress but from the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.
It was Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who decided to reinstate the Census’s long-dormant citizenship question earlier this year. Congress could theoretically overrule that decision, or indeed any Commerce Department or Census Bureau decision related to the Census.

Last updated Aug 10, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

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