The fight for marriage equality started right here 42 years before Same Sex marriage was legalized when two Minnesota men, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, made history in 1971 when they legally obtained a marriage license.
Last September, nearly 48 years after they first obtained their marriage license Jack and Mike finally had their union recognized by the state of Minnesota after a prolonged legal battle. In February, they learned that they were entitled to full spousal benefits from the Social Security Administration.
We caught their story last weekend on WCCO Sunday Morning when Esme Murphy shared their story. The two men met at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1960s and authored the memoir “The Wedding Heard ’Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage” in 2016.
“In 1967 ― on Jack’s birthday, actually ― he asked me to be his,” McConnell recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what: If you will find a way for us to get legally married, I’ll commit.’”
The process of two men applying for a marriage license in Blue Earth county in 1971 required some legal maneuvering. McConnell was able to legally adopt Baker, which established certain rights and protections for the two men. Baker then changed his first name to the gender-neutral “Pat Lyn,” and they were able to obtain a license from a clerk who didn’t realize the marriage of “Mike” and “Pat Lyn” was a same-sex arrangement.
In time, though, county authorities caught on, and the marriage license became the focus of a legal battle. Ultimately, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against Baker and McConnell, and the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear their case ― even though they still had the original marriage license in their possession.
But this story has a happy ending: Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land in 2015. At that time, Baker and McConnell briefly considered tying the knot again in a legally recognized ceremony. Eventually, they decided against it.
“I said, ‘No, we already are married.’ It’s against the law in Minnesota, first of all, to get married twice,” said Baker “You can’t get a second license until a court invalidates the first license. So we said, “We have to continue on to prove that the license we had is legal.’” They were able to finally accomplish this in 2018.
Photo by Angela Jimenez
“Love is the most powerful force in the universe,” McConnell said. “It can and does transform everything.” Added Baker: “If you don’t stand tall and defend yourselves, no one will else will either.”
See more on their story.