The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, May 18
May 18th, 2011
Marriage Ban Vote: Minnesota. The Minnesota House Rules and Administration Committee will meet at 8:30 AM CDT in the State Office Building to consider SF1308, the proposed constitutional ban on marriage equality. The committee is expected to move the bill to the House floor for a vote by the full House tomorrow. The bill cleared the Senate last Wednesday. If it passes the house, the proposed amendment will go before the voters in 2012.
Immigration Strategy Meeting: New York, NY. Immigration Equality will host a private meeting today with representatives from a number of LGBT advocacy groups to discuss strategies for keeping bi-nationals together. The issue arose following the decision by US Attorney General Eric Holder to vacate a Board of Immigration Appeals decision to deport a gay Irishman whose U.S. partner is prohibited from sponsoring because of the Defense of Marriage Act. A spokesman for Immigration Equality explained, “There has been enormous attention focused on our work surrounding LGBT bi-national families recently, and many groups and individuals have expressed an interest in that work. We are bringing a group of those allies together for an off-the-record discussion about how to ensure we win that campaign as quickly as possible, and end the discrimination those families are facing.”
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Marriage In Minnesota: 1970. Today, there is a push on in the Minnesota legislature to put a marriage ban on the ballot. It turns out that marriage has been a hot topic there for more than forty years. Mike McConnell met Jack Backer in 1966 on a blind date at a Halloween party in Oklahoma when they were both 24-year-old grad students. On Baker’s 25th birthday, they became “betrothed,” as they put it, in a private ceremony. They moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where they met activists Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny. “That’s what lit our fires of pride,” recalled McConnell in Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price’s Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court. “These fine people were willing to say, ‘Look, I’m as good as anybody else.’ That’s all I needed to hear.”
In April, 1970. McConnell accepted a job at the University of Minnesota’s library and and Baker enrolled as a first year law student. Three weeks later, on this date in 1970, the couple applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis. Their presence caused a minor stir among nervous office workers. Baker told them, “If there’s any legal hassle, we’re prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court. This is not a gimmick.” There were legal hassles. Not only were the denied a license, but the university fired McConnell when news of their application hit the papers.
A federal judge blocked McConnell’s firing. He called the episode “rather bizarre, but concluded that “An [sic] homosexual is after all a human being and a citizen…. He is as much entitled to the protection and benefits of the laws… as others.” Unfortunately, that decision was reversed on appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case.
Meanwhile a state judge, ruling on the marriage case itself, sided with county officials and ordered them not to issue a license. While McConnell and Baker appealed that decision, McConnell legally adopted Baker in August 1971, which allowed them at least some of the benefits of marriage (inheritance, medical decision-making, even reduced tuition for Baker) and the two were married in a private ceremony a month later by Methodist ministers. But in October, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Nelson that state law prohibits same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the appeal “for want of a substantial federal question,” and Baker v. Nelson became established precedent.
The couple are still together in Minneapolis, where McConnell works as a librarian and Baker is retired from his law practice.
Patrick Dennis: 1921. His 1955 novel, Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, based on growing up with his real life Aunt, Mame Dennis, became one of the best-selling books of the 20th century. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 112 weeks, and became the basis for the movie Auntie Mame in 1958 starring Rosalind Russel. But that wasn’t fabulous enough. It went on to become a Broadway musical in 1966 starring Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur. From there it became a Hollywood musical starring Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur. Mame’s outrageous main character defined camp. Mame’s commitment to imagination and style can best be summed up in her most famous line: “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death. Live!”
Dennis married in 1948 and had two children. He struggled with his bisexuality and was said to have been a fixture in Greenwich Village. He tried to commit suicide at one point, and after years of leading a double life, he decided to leave his family after he had fallen in love with another man. By the 1970s, his novels fell out of favor and out of print. His caviar tastes and extravagant nature, not unlike those of his quasi-fictional Mame, soon had him flat broke. He began a second career as a butler, and a rather anonymous one at that. He worked at the estate of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds, where it is said that his employers had no idea who he really was.
Don Bachardy: 1934. He met writer Christopher Isherwood on Valentine’s day when he was eighteen and Isherwood was 48, and they remained together as partners until Isherwood’s death in 1986. Bachardy still lives in the house they shared together in Santa Monica. It’s a shame that virtually every biography about Bachardy starts with that introduction because he is a talented painter in his own right. He studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Slade School of Art in London. His first one-man exhibition was held in 1961 at London’s Redfern Gallery. Most of his work is portraiture, and several of his sketches appeared in Isherwood’s novels.
If Bachardy is sometimes overshadowed by his relationship with Isherwood, he seems to have come to terms with it. But it did pose problems between them earlier in their relationship. During a particularly difficult period when Bachardy was studying in London, they almost broke up. Isherwood imagined what it would be like to live without Bachardy, and wrote A Single Man in which Bachardy’s character was already dead before the novel began. If you know the novel’s story, the result is not a happy one. Bachardy and Isherwood remained together for 33 years, and their relationship became an integral part of each other’s art. When Isherwood was dying of cancer, he continued to sit for Bachardy’s portraits. “Chris was in a lot of pain towards the end,” he told The Sunday Times. “But he had sat for me so often over the years, and I knew this was something we could still do together. Each day, I could be with him intensely for hours on end.”
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