For the first time, the ABS is releasing data on the number of same-sex partners and couples who are described on the Census form as husband or wife, rather than as de facto partner. To make this possible, a new classification has been created, 'Relationship as Reported for Couples' (RLCP). The new classification 'Relationship as reported for Couples' (RLCP) was developed in the 2011 Census to record the number of people who reported their relationship as 'Husband or wife' (regardless of whether they are a same-sex or opposite-sex couple). It should be noted that the relationships are recorded when the couples have been counted in an occupied private dwelling. This is an additional classification, existing alongside the classification 'Relationship in Household' (RLHP). More information on both RLCP and RLHP is available in the 2011 Census Dictionary (cat. no. 2901.0).

The reasons why people might report that they are the husband or wife of someone of the same sex cannot be known from Census data, but may include having been married in a jurisdiction other than Australia, having registered their relationship under state or territory law, or considering that husband or wife is the term that best describes their relationship. Prior to 2011, all same-sex couples were classified as de facto partners in Census output, regardless of how they had described themselves on the Census form.

How same-sex couples are counted in the Census

All couples and other types of families and households in private dwellings are identified in Census data through answers to Question 5 and Question 53 on the 2011 Census Household Form which ask for each person’s relationship to Person 1 on the form. The Census form states that Person 1 should be the householder if present, otherwise any other adult member of the household. It also states that Person 2 on the form should be the spouse or partner of Person 1 if present, otherwise any person present. For Person 2, Question 5 includes the tick box options 'Husband or wife' and 'De facto partner'. Question 3 on the Census Household Form 'Is this person male or female?' is also relevant as this will determine whether two people are classified as an opposite-sex or same-sex couple. Very similar questions are present on the 2011 Interviewer Household form, used in some discrete Indigenous communities, although numbered differently.

Question 5 as it appeared on the 2011 Census Household Form
Image of question 5 from the 2011 Census
A text only version of this question is also available.

Figure 1 shows extracts from the 2011 Census Household Form showing the part of Question 5 answered by Persons 1, 2 and 3. (The question format for Persons 4 onwards is the same as for Person 3).

A separate question on each person's registered marital status is included on the 2011 Census Household Form, but this is not used to classify people into families. This is because people's registered marital status may or may not relate to a person they are living with.

Potential errors in the counts of same-sex couples

With some exceptions, the Census is filled in by people in the household, not by trained interviewers. Marking an incorrect box in answer to Question 5 or Question 3 (about the sex of each person) could result in couples being incorrectly assigned to either same-sex or opposite-sex couples. Although there are editing procedures to identify and correct such errors wherever possible, it is not possible to identify and eliminate all errors.

Results from 2011

In 2011, the vast majority of same-sex couples described their relationship as de facto partner (96%). The numbers of same-sex couples who stated their relationship as husband/wife are small, therefore there is limited ability to cross-classify this item reliably with other variables. Below are some basic counts.

Table 1: Couples by Relationship as Reported by State/Territory, 2011 (a)
States and Territories Same-sex couples where relationship reported as De facto Partner Same-sex couples where relationship reported as Husband or Wife Total same-sex couples
Opposite sex couples
New South Wales 12,259 468 12,731 1,488,136
Victoria 8,319 403 8,722 1,160,882
Queensland 5,779 213 5,986 938,314
South Australia 1,845 82 1,930 351,178
Western Australia 2,491 80 2,576 487,189
Tasmania 579 26 606 109,048
Northern Territory 277 10 288 38,271
ACT 828 50 872 77,473
Australia (b) 32,377 1,338 33,714 4,650,986
  1. Data in this table have been confidentialised. This produces minor variations in the data and may result in discrepancies between the sums of the component items and totals.
  2. Australian total includes Other Territories.

Table 2: Same-sex couples by Relationship as Reported, 2011 (a)
  Relationship reported as De facto Partner Relationship reported as Husband or Wife
Male same-sex couples 16,908 675
Female same-sex couples 15,470 661
Total same-sex couples 32,377 1,338
  1. Data in this table have been confidentialised. This produces minor variations in the data and may result in discrepancies between the sums of the component items and totals.

Further information

See also Same-sex Couple Families, in Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census (cat. no. 2071.0)