Wins, setbacks mark the path to nationwide marriage equality

Supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015 after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. It was 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Eleven years later, the Supreme Court has now ruled that all those gay marriage bans must fall and same-sex couples have the same right to marry under the Constitution as everyone else.

Supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015 after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. It was 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Eleven years later, the Supreme Court has now ruled that all those gay marriage bans must fall and same-sex couples have the same right to marry under the Constitution as everyone else. Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

Supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015 after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. It was 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Eleven years later, the Supreme Court has now ruled that all those gay marriage bans must fall and same-sex couples have the same right to marry under the Constitution as everyone else.Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

Supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015 after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. It was 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Eleven years later, the Supreme Court has now ruled that all those gay marriage bans must fall and same-sex couples have the same right to marry under the Constitution as everyone else.

WASHINGTON — In 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, President George W. Bush declared support for a constitutional amendment “to protect the institution of marriage.” Voters in 13 states changed their constitutions to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In most of those states, the vote wasn’t even close.

Eleven years later, the Supreme Court has now ruled that all those gay marriage bans must fall and same-sex couples have the same right to marry under the Constitution as everyone else. “No longer may this liberty be denied to them,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his June 26 opinion for the court.

The opinion builds on the three earlier Kennedy opinions in favor of gay rights dating to 1996, but also on the legal fights that same-sex couples undertook over more than 40 years. There were key victories and losses, starting with a case from Minnesota in 1972.

Recollections from some participants in the fight:

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.

Jack Baker can claim to be among the first to predict publicly that gay rights advocates would win the marriage fight, back when most in the country could not envision the idea.

“I am convinced that same-sex marriage will be legalized in the United States,” Baker told a group of lawyers on Oct. 21, 1971, as quoted in the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press.

Baker, a retired lawyer, and Michael McConnell, a retired librarian, have been together since 1967.

Baker explained his certainty to The Associated Press in 2011: “The outcome was never in doubt, because the conclusion was intuitively obvious to a first-year law student.”

Article continues below

It wasn’t so obvious to county officials in Minneapolis, state judges or the Supreme Court. Homosexuality was still defined as a mental disorder and gay couples couldn’t marry anywhere in the world.

Baker and Michael McConnell tried and failed to get a license at Hennepin County courthouse in Minneapolis on May 18, 1970. After Minnesota’s top court upheld the refusal of county officials to issue a marriage license to two men, Baker and McConnell appealed to the Supreme Court.

The justices’ first brush with same-sex marriage was brief and desultory. In October 1972, the court declined to hear arguments in Baker v. Nelson. The justices took just one sentence to turn away the case “for want of a substantial federal question.”

That curt rejection remained on the books for nearly 43 years, until June 26. “Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled,” Kennedy wrote.

Continue reading

This Story Filed Under

Comments