Today In History, 1970: Minnesota Couple Seek Marriage License

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2016

Mike McConnell and Jack Baker applying for a marriage license in Minneapolis.

Mike McConnell (May 19) met Jack Baker (see Mar 10) in 1966 on a blind date at a Halloween party in Oklahoma where they were both 24-year-old grad students. On Baker’s 25th birthday, they became betrothed, as they put it, in a private ceremony, and moved in together. After moving to Kansas City, Missouri, they met activists Barbara Gittings (Jul 31)and Frank Kameny (May 21). “That’s what lit our fires of pride,” recalled McConnell. “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 Baker enrolled as a first year law student. Three weeks later, on the day before McConnell’s birthday, the couple went to the city clerk’s office in Minneapolis and asked for a marriage license. Baker told the nervous workers, “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.” But 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). Later that same year, they managed to obtain a marriage license from a clerk in Blue Earth County, Minnesota and were married by a Methodist minister (Sep 3). 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 an appeal “for want of a substantial federal question,” Baker v. Nelson became an established precedent.

In 2012, Minnesotans defeated a proposed constitutional amendment, placed on the ballot by a Republican-controlled legislature that would have permanently barred same-sex marriages in the state. Voters also elected a Democratic-Farm-Labor (DFL, the state Democratic party’s name in Minnesota) majority in both houses of the legislature. Elections have consequences, and the new legislature passed a marriage equality bill in 2013, which Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) quickly signed into law. That law went into effect on August 1. Baker and McConnell weren’t among those to line up for marriage licenses that day. As far as they were concerned, the license they obtained in Blue Earth County was still valid and they saw no need for another one. They still live a quiet life together, well out of the spotlight, in Minneapolis.

[Source: Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court (New York: Basic Books, 2001): 163-171.]

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