Mini Jain and Anne Robertson often joke that the most radical thing they ever did as a married gay couple was to be ordinary. They are middle-class, live in a home in south Minneapolis and have two kids and one dog.
"We always thought we were pretty boring except for this one thing about us," Jain said.
Still, Jain and Robertson say there's something profound in the sheer mundanity of being able to check the "married" box on government forms, including the most recent census.
"Now we're just officially boring," Jain said with a laugh.
The 2020 census was the first decennial census that included a category for same-sex spouses. According to data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 10,000 Minnesota households self-reported a same-sex married couple. More than 80% of those households are in the Twin Cities metro, and another 10% reported living in other metro areas across the state.
Even with the addition of same-sex marriage, the share of Minnesota households with a married couple continues to slide — a trend for decades. Same-sex couples make up just 0.9% of married couple households statewide.
Susan Brower, Minnesota's state demographer, said having accurate data on same-sex couples is an important piece of understanding how families are organized, but comprehensive data wasn't available until now.
Before the Census Bureau added the box for same-sex married couples, people's responses varied — and were sometimes edited out as the agency cleaned up data for analysis.
In the 1990 census, if two people of the same sex in one household said they were married, the Census Bureau edited that by changing the sex of one of them, Brower said. In 2010, if a household indicated it had a same-sex married couple, that status was changed to "unmarried" in the editing process because same-sex marriages weren't legal in all 50 states until 2015.
"Even if people had unions and considered themselves married at the time, if it wasn't a legal union recognized by the federal government, that's when the editing procedures were carried out," Brower said, adding that changes to census forms typically lag behind societal changes.
Richard Fahel was "appalled but not surprised" to hear that history.
"There's value in reporting that number accurately so people know we're here, we're a part of our communities," Fahel said. He married his husband, Jeff Haug, in Massachusetts — the first state to legalize gay marriage — in 2004, more than 20 years after they met and a decade after they exchanged vows at their home in front of friends and family.
"We already knew we were married," Fahel said. "It just took a long time for society and government to recognize it, too."
He's already seen the positive effects of being able to officially record his marriage in other places, like a doctor's office. On the medical forms he fills out at appointments for Haug, who was diagnosed with ALS eight years ago, Fahel proudly marks "married," just as he did on the 2020 census — and doesn't worry about whether he's allowed to be there in an emergency.
Before marriage equality, Fahel would sometimes scratch out the options listed under "marital status" and wrote "partnered relationship."
"But most of the time I just checked 'single' and swore under my breath about it," he said. "I'm less concerned with what anybody does with that data, but I'm just elated that I can be honest with myself when I check that box."
Bradley Schmeling agreed.
"Part of the point of coming out is to say out loud 'I'm here, I exist, this life is real and there's nothing shameful about it' — that it's not to be hidden," he said. "So in a way, checking a box on a government form is a way of saying 'Just like everyone else's, this marriage is real and is to be acknowledged and counted.'"
Schmeling and his husband, Darin Easler, are both Lutheran pastors. After attending the signing ceremony for the 2013 bill that made same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota, the two went home, poured some wine and flipped open a hymnal to choose the music they wanted at their wedding ceremony the following year.
Their ceremony drew 400 guests to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, where Schmeling is a senior pastor. They didn't exchange new rings that day, but instead blessed the same rings they'd been wearing for years. They had exchanged them in 2007 on the day they announced their relationship to the church bishop in Atlanta, where they were living at the time. Schmeling was asked to resign; he refused.
Making their marriage legal inside a church and in front of family and friends (who all participated in a classic church potluck for the reception) provided a joyful contrast.
"Receiving that affirmation from a community of people who love you really matters in how your relationship feels solid and stable," he said.
Schmeling hopes that more same-sex couples can feel that level of security, too, though he wonders if there are still some who don't yet feel comfortable marking a "married" box or being open with their relationship.
"On one hand, it looks like having that box on the census is a completion of the fight for equality," he said. "But it ought to be a reminder that we do have more work to do."
The Star Tribune is continuing to report on the 10-year anniversary of Minnesota's same-sex marriage law and we're looking for same-sex couples willing to be interviewed. If you're interested or would like to learn more before volunteering, please fill out the form below.