Gay activists from Minnesota Free University at the University of Minnesota created a campus organization run by and for gay students, Fight Repression of Erotic Expression (FREE), that the University recognized in 1969, shortly before the Stonewall riots, and elected first-year law student Jack Baker as president. It was the second such organization in the United States, following Columbia Queer Alliance recognized by Columbia University in 1967.
The Twin Cities Assembly Committee on Student Affairs approved FREE's application on November 1. "FREE is the first student gay organization to gain recognition in the upper mid-west," the organization's news release proclaimed. "Its leaders believe it to be the first such organization on a Big Ten campus."
©Kay Tobin/Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, Portraits for Lahusen's book, The Gay Crusaders, ca. 1970 (©15)
Jack Baker is a Minnesota gay activist who pressed for the right of same-sex couples to marry from 1969 to 1980. He and Michael McConnell repeatedly sought to obtain a marriage license and at one point succeeded in doing so and were married in 1970. The Minnesota Supreme Court decided the case of Baker v. Nelson in 1972 and the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed their appeal "for want of a substantial federal question." Baker and McConnell were still living as a married couple as late as Dec 2012.
Jack Baker, left, and Michael McConnell at their home in Minneapolis. In 1970, they became the first same-sex couple in the nation known to apply for a marriage license. Credit Angela Jimenez for The New York Times
Jack Baker, Michael McConnell, and Barbara Gittings / Kay Tobin Lahusen (1972)
Moving openly and aggressively, members of FREE slowly transformed Minneapolis into a "mecca for gays". Five major companies were questioned. That led to a wider survey. Three doing business in the Twin Cities area responded quickly, insisting that they do not discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring policies. Honeywell responded differently: "We would not employ a known homosexual."
FREE pressed for equality and crafted a new University policy. The Administrative Committee approved a final draft 22 May 1972. Complaints could now be filed with the Campus Committee on Placement Services for discrimination by employers recruiting on campus. When challenged, Honeywell admitted that its objection to known homosexuals "still holds." Facing expulsion from University facilities, Honeywell "quietly reversed its hiring policy". No longer would it refuse to employ people because they are gay.
Gay Pride, begun by FREE, swept the world. Everywhere, men and women became eager to abolish discrimination against themselves or their friends. Congress objected. It felt the need to punish colleges that do not grant access to military recruiters.
Early in 1971, Baker campaigned to become president of the Minnesota Students Association at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. His theme, Student Control over Student Concerns, urged students "to search out a new self-respect."
"We need a student on the Board of Regents," he insisted. Why wait for a change in the law? "The Regents already have the power to appoint students to the committees of the Board or Regents." The student newspaper endorsed his position.
A total of 6,024 ballots were cast in the election, topping the previous record of 5,049 cast in the 1958 election. Baker captured 2,766 votes; two competitors and write-in candidates split the remainder. He credited victory to a new "sophistication" among students. "Sexuality ought not and did not play any party in the campaign".
As student body president, Baker continued to question why students lacked input to decisions made by the Board of Regents. Some regents relented, forcing the Board to act. Soon thereafter, students were invited to participate. Several were appointed, one non-voting member to each committee. He started a student-run bookstore. Concurrently, he proposed that the University purchase a local FM radio station to be operated by students as a public communications tool for the University. Finally, he created a corporation owned by MSA to build needed housing for students.
Having promised to complete projects already started, Baker won re-election easily in 1972. With "3,035 votes out of a record turnout of 7,441", it was "the first time in the 121-year history of the University that a student body president has been re-elected." A focus on campus issues attracted 41% of the vote in a 3-way race.
In 1970, Minnesota laws did not explicitly forbid granting a marriage license to a same-sex couple. On May 18, 1970, Baker and McConnell applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis. The clerk of the Hennepin County District Court, Gerald Nelson, said he had "no intention of issuing a marriage license". He then denied the request on the sole ground that the two were of the same sex.
Baker and McConnell filed suit in district court to force Nelson to issue a license. Legislator Allan Spear, a University of Minnesota professor, called them "the lunatic fringe." A trial court dismissed the couple's claims and ordered the clerk not to issue it.
They appealed the district court's decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. In a brief opinion issued on October 15, 1971, the state's highest court affirmed the trial court's dismissal. Its opinion said that: "The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation or rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis". Chief Justice Robert J. Sheran, and all Associated Justices, concurred.
The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union filed an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed the case unanimously on October 10, 1972, issuing a one-sentence decision: "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question." The case received extensive media attention, including appearances on the Phil Donahue Show, Kennedy & Co. (WLS-TV, Chicago IL) and David Susskind Show (New York, NY). “Baby Boomers” from around the world responded.
Gay marriage saw "little or no enthusiasm" from the American Civil Liberties Union. Gay historians ignored the midwest because they "personally had political objections to gay marriage activism." According to Thomas Kraemer, "gay marriage activism was rejected by early gay activists [in New York City] who were mostly interested in sexual freedom and gay liberation." Perhaps that explains why the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union was alone in its defense of gay marriage.
Jack Baker addressed members of the Ramsey County Bar Association in 1971. Same-sex marriages are "not only authorized by the U.S. Constitution," he said, but are also mandatory. "I am convinced that same-sex marriages will be legalized in the United States."
In 1972, Baker addressed a forum of more than 2,000 at the University of Winnipeg. "We maintain," he explained, "that it’s a matter of equity and fair play that if a state is going to give childless heterosexual couples rights and benefits under the law, they can’t complain when childless same-sex couples ask for the same rights." His arguments persuaded Richard North to begin a "fight to be married" with Chris Vogel. Persistence led to equal marriage in Canada 30 years later.
Same-sex marriage is "the civil rights issue of our times,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous during a news conference at the organization’s national headquarters. "The outcome was never in doubt," Jack Baker told the Associated Press in 2012 "because the conclusion was intuitively obvious to a first-year law student."
In early August 1971 McConnell legally adopted Baker in a Hennepin County court. When he approved the request, Judge Lindsay Arthur said, "regardless of popular conception, adoption is not limited to children". The decree changed Baker's legal name to Pat Lynn McConnell, though he continued to use the name Jack Baker.
In mid-August 1971, Baker and McConnell took up residence with a friend in Blue Earth County and applied to the District Court in Mankato for a license to marry, which was granted once the waiting period expired. Rev. Roger Lynn, a Methodist minister, solemnized their marriage on September 3. It was the first lawful same-sex marriage in the United States. The Hennepin County Attorney argued the license was invalid because it failed to meet the law's requirement that a license be issued in the bride's county of residence. He convened a grand jury, which "studied the legality of the marriage but found the question not worth pursuing."
They filed a joint tax return for 1973, which the Internal Revenue Service rejected. The next year, McConnell claimed Jack Baker as a dependent and took a deduction on his tax returns as head of household from 1974 through 2004. He lost the deduction in 2005, after the federal law was amended to restrict the deduction to an adopted child under the age of 19.
The University Librarian offered Michael McConnell the position of Head of the Cataloging Division at the library on the St. Paul campus. The Board of Regents rescinded the offer after he applied for a marriage license. More than 80% of the student body disapproved of the Regents' action.
According to Regent Daniel Gainey, "homosexuality is about the worst thing there is."
McConnell sued to gain the job that was offered. He prevailed in federal District Court. The University appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that the University did not restrict free speech. Instead, the court ruled, it was McConnell who wanted "to pursue an activist role in implementing his controversial ideas concerning the social status to be accorded homosexuals and thereby to foist tacit approval of the socially repugnant concept upon his employer."
McConnell was later hired by the Hennepin County Library, a system of 41 facilities. He rose through the ranks during a distinguished career of 37 years. When he retired as a Coordinating Librarian at the end of 2010, the Board of Commissioners awarded him a commendation
Pain for 42 years brought a statement of regret from President Eric Kaler. He called McConnell’s treatment reprehensible, regrets that it occurred and says the university’s actions at that time were not consistent with the practices enforced today at the university. McConnell responded: "Thank you, President Kaler, for offering to remove the cloud that shamed the University of Minnesota. Your offer is accepted."
In June 1972, Baker led the DFL Gay Rights Caucus at the State Convention of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. We advocate "legislation defining marriage as a civil contract between any two adults", the delegates added to their party platform. This was the first time a major United States political party encouraged support for marriage equality.
In December 1972, Baker graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School. When he applied to take the bar examination, questions were raised about whether the procurement of his 1971 marriage license amounted to fraud. At a hearing, Baker was defended by the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. The State Board of Law Examiners reviewed the facts and concluded that he was entitled to take the bar exam. He was admitted to the bar.
Baker ran more than once as a candidate for Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Each time, he challenged the incumbent who also served as head of the Minnesota News Council (MNC). Baker cited the Code of Judicial Conduct—"A judge shall not act as an arbitrator or mediator or otherwise perform judicial functions in a private capacity unless expressly authorized by law."—and said it prohibited a sitting judge from serving on the MNC. In 2002, Baker opposed the re-election of Paul H. Anderson. In the Plebiscite mailed to more than 14,900 attorneys in Minnesota, he questioned the special relationship between the Minnesota Supreme Court and MNC. Baker won 30% of the votes.
The practice of a sitting judge mediating a private dispute regarding the conduct of the press ended shortly thereafter and the MNC ceased to exist in 2011.
In 2003, Baker and McConnell amended their individual tax returns for the year 2000, filing jointly as a couple. They offered proof of a valid marriage license issued in Blue Earth County. The IRS challenged the validity of the marriage license and argued that, even if the license were valid, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited the IRS from recognizing it. McConnell brought suit and the U.S. District Court for Minnesota upheld the IRS ruling in McConnell v. United States on January 3, 2005, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling on July 17, 2006, saying that McConnell could not relitigate the question decided in Baker v. Nelson.
Baker and McConnell were still living as a married couple as late as May 2015.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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