‘Baker v. Nelson’ same-sex marriage pioneer hails U.S. Supreme Court ruling

In this May 18, 1970 photo, Mike McConnell, left, and Jack Baker, both 28, attempt to obtain a Hennepin County marriage license in Minneapolis. The couple was blocked from getting a license which prompted a lawsuit that was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 in Baker v. Nelson. Four decades later, the couple is still together in Minneapolis as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26, 2015 that marriage equality is a constitutional right.

In this May 18, 1970 photo, Mike McConnell, left, and Jack Baker, both 28, attempt to obtain a Hennepin County marriage license in Minneapolis. The couple was blocked from getting a license which prompted a lawsuit that was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 in Baker v. Nelson. Four decades later, the couple is still together in Minneapolis as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26, 2015 that marriage equality is a constitutional right. . Bertraine Heine, Minnesota Historical Society via 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. The couple was blocked from getting a license which prompted a lawsuit that was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 in Baker v. Nelson. Four decades later, the couple is still together in Minneapolis as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26, 2015 that marriage equality is a constitutional right.. Bertraine Heine, Minnesota Historical Society via 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. The couple was blocked from getting a license which prompted a lawsuit that was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 in Baker v. Nelson. Four decades later, the couple is still together in Minneapolis as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26, 2015 that marriage equality is a constitutional right.

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota man who fought for his own same-sex marriage more than 40 years ago is celebrating the landmark Supreme Court ruling that said gay couples can marry anywhere in the country.

In an email to The Associated Press on Saturday, Michael McConnell said the high court finally affirmed the question he and his partner raised 44 years ago – “same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.”

“For me, I’m a patient man, but 44 years is a long time to wait for this intuitively obvious answer,” McConnell wrote. “Just glad I’m here to experience it.”

McConnell and Jack Baker tried to get a marriage license in Hennepin County in 1970 but were denied.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 rejected the men’s Minnesota lawsuit to be the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the U.S. In a one-sentence dismissal, justices rejected the appeal on grounds the plaintiffs did not raise “a substantial federal question.”

As binding precedent, the case — Baker v. Nelson — subsequently prevented lower courts from coming to a contrary conclusion when presented with the precise issue the Court adjudicated in dismissing the case.

It was the Baker decision that was cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which last year upheld the same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, setting the stage for this year’s Supreme Court showdown.

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The Sixth Circuit decision reinforced the Baker v. Nelson decision, with the declaration that the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the voters and legislatures of the states.

McConnell and Baker married in 1971, about 18 months after Hennepin County first rejected their application. The couple traveled to southern Minnesota’s Blue Earth County, where they obtained a marriage license on which Baker was listed with an altered, gender-neutral name. A Methodist minister then married them. That license was later challenged in court but was never explicitly invalidated by a judge.

Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage two years ago, with the first weddings between gay and lesbian couples taking place on Aug. 1, 2013.

McConnell’s memoir with Baker is scheduled to be published in January by University of Minnesota Press.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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