A Minnesota couple is being celebrated for having the longest government recognized gay marriage in U.S. history.
Last march, we shared with you how a Minnesota district court ruled to recognize Richard John “Jack” Baker and Michael McConnell’s marriage from back in the 70s. The two men met in 1966 at a Halloween Party. Then in 1971, the two applied for a marriage license in Hennepin County, Minnesota. While they were initially turned down, the two then tried again in Blue Earth County and were approved.
At the time, there was no law against same-sex marriage. That said, the county later tried to illegalize the marriage by never recording it. The two men then went through a series of court battles for 44 years. That culminated in the district court officially recognizing them as legally wed in the 1970s.
While the story is told in more detail in the book, “The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage,” the two men recently spoke with Minnesota’s CBS local news about their relationship.
“In 1967, Jack proposed to me,” said McConnell. “And I had already decided that before I settled down with anybody, again, in a relationship, I was going to do it right. So I told him when he proposed, “Ok, I will get commit to you, but only if you can find a way for us to get legally married.”
McConnell then spoke to MPR news about Stonewall, the gay rights movement, and his relationship with Baker.
“What we were facing was a society that was quite ignorant. We were seen as predators, sexual beings, not human beings, sinners, insane or sick,” said McConnell. “All those things were who gay people were defined as during those times, and so we knew we had a major educational process ahead of us. That didn’t scare us so much as it was daunting because we knew the ignorance was wide and deep.”
McConnell then touches on the fact that despite the government pushback to his relationship with Baker, the couple still found love and acceptance in Minnesota.
“However when we got to Minnesota and and began pursuing our our dream of marriage, we found a society that was more open. Yes, there were lots of people here who felt those things that I spoke of … those lies about who gay people are. But, we also found a large number of people here who were just curious. Tell me about this. What is this? And why do you want to do this? And what we found was that people, once their questions were answered, saw you as a person not as this mythical creature. They were fine, you know? You’re just like anybody else.”
Now, Baker and McConnell’s relationship is a part of gay history and U.S. history. To honor that, the two donated many of their documents, correspondence, and journals to the Jean-Nikolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota.