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Case of same-sex couple to receive marriage license in 1971 reverberates today

R. Bertraine Heine, Minnesota Historical Society/APIn this May 18, 1970 photo, Mike McConnell, left, and Jack Baker, both 28, attempt to obtain a Hennepin County marriage license in Minneapolis.

R. Bertraine Heine, Minnesota Historical Society/AP
In this May 18, 1970 photo, Mike McConnell, left, and Jack Baker, both 28, attempt to obtain a Hennepin County marriage license in Minneapolis.

R. Bertraine Heine, Minnesota Historical Society/APIn this May 18, 1970 photo, Mike McConnell, left, and Jack Baker, both 28, attempt to obtain a Hennepin County marriage license in Minneapolis.

R. Bertraine Heine, Minnesota Historical Society/AP
In this May 18, 1970 photo, Mike McConnell, left, and Jack Baker, both 28, attempt to obtain a Hennepin County marriage license in Minneapolis.

Via The New York Times:

Long before the fight over same-sex marriage began in earnest, long before gay couples began lining up for marriage licenses, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell decided to wed.

The year was 1967. Homosexuality was still classified as a disorder, sodomy was illegal in nearly every state, and most gay men and lesbians lived in fearful secrecy.

But from the age of 14, eyeing young men in his father’s barbershop, Mr. McConnell dreamed of living “happily ever after” with a partner.

[…]

In 1970, in Minneapolis, Mr. Baker and Mr. McConnell became the first same-sex couple known to apply for a marriage license. Turned down by Hennepin County, they fought to the United States Supreme Court, where they lost their case in a one-sentence dismissal that has reverberated in federal courts and played an indirect role in pushing same-sex marriage to the high court this year.

The couple, though, did not give up. With some sleight of hand involving a legal change to a gender-neutral name, they obtained a marriage license in another county, and in 1971, in white bell-bottom pantsuits and macramé headbands, they exchanged vows before a Methodist pastor and a dozen guests in a friend’s apartment.

Last November, more than four decades later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit cited the 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Nelson as precedent that federal courts should defer to the states on same-sex marriage, while other federal courts had disagreed.

In a historical twist, the couple’s loss in 1972 helped create the circuit-court split that led the Supreme Court to consider the issue this spring. A ruling is expected in June.

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