MN Couple In Landmark Gay Marriage Case Still “Legally Married”

In March 1967, Mike McConnell agreed to settle down with Jack Baker on the condition that they would someday get legally married. What followed was a landmark Supreme Court case that set the precedent for all marriage equality cases to follow.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, The Washington Post profiled Jack Baker (pictured, right) and Michael McConnell (left), the couple behind the 1971 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Nelson.

Baker  and McConnell met at a Halloween party in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1966. After, Baker, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was fired from a job at Tinker Air Force base for being gay, the couple relocated to Minneapolis. There,  at the University of Minnesota, McConnell took a job at the library while Baker studied law.

Bad luck seemed to follow them to Minneapolis for, shortly after relocating, the University’s Board of Regents rescinded McConnell’s job offer because he was openly gay and the Supreme Court rejected his separate lawsuit to get it back.

But despite their clean-cut, counter-countercultutre look, Baker and McConnell were radicals in their own right. On May 18, 1970, months after the Stonewall riots kicked off the gay civil rights movement, the couple strolled into Minneapolis’ Hennepin County courthouse to obtain a marriage license.

Unsurprisingly, the Hennepin County attorney blocked their bid, as did the district judge and the state Supreme Court, arguing, “The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the Book of Genesis.”

“I am convinced that same-sex marriage will be legalized in the United States,” Baker told a group of lawyers on Oct. 21, 1971. When asked by The Post via email why they pursued the case, Baker wrote, “The love of my life insisted on it.”

Alas, 0n October 10, 1972, the Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in Baker v. Nelson, “for want of a substantial federal question.”

By then, however, Baker and McConnell had already gotten married. In 1971, about 18 months after their application was initially rejected, the couple traveled to southern Minnesota’s Blue Earth County and obtained a marriage license listing Baker under an altered, gender-neutral name. The license was later challenged in court, but it was never explicitly invalidated by a judge.

So while Minnesota may have struck down a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, Mike McConnell and Jack Baker, both now 70, have been (as Baker puts it) “legally married” for over 40 years.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society