Sunday, May 19, 2013

Gay Marriage in Minnesota: 1970

Marriage equality just got signed into law in Minnesota this past week, but the fight has been part of that state's history for over 40 years!

I frequently hear people question why gay and lesbian couples never sought marriage rights & responsibilities until the past decade or so. They fail to remember that it wasn't that long ago that we were jailed for being gay or involuntarily hospitalized for being gay or barred from several professions for being gay. Many of our older LGBTs lived undercover lives. It's not that we didn't have relationships and it's not that we didn't consider ourselves long-term partners. But we were more concerned about pesky things such as anti-sodomy laws to worry about instead of marriage equality.

Anyway, straight people might not have been thinking much about same-sex marriage 20, 30, or 40 years ago, but we were (or at least many of us LGBTs were) forming families and thinking about the legal rights and responsibilities that were being actively denied us. I remember talking to my college friends about this issue -- this personal goal -- back in the early 90s. I know I wasn't the first gay teen who wanted to get married. Box Turtle Bulletin reminded me with a recent blog post about another pair of gay men who dreamed of getting legally married.

Mike McConnell and Jack Baker met as grad students back in 1966. A year later, they had a commitment ceremony. A few years later, they relocated to Minneapolis, MN, after McConnell became employed at the University of Minnesota's library and Baker became a first year law student.

In May 1970, Baker and McConnell applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis. Their application was denied and McConnell was fired from his job. It was unclear if his firing was ultimately allowed or not. The couple appealed the rejection of their marriage license in state court. Unfortunately, the judge ruled against them. They applied for another marriage license in 1971 with a clerk from Blue Earth County, MN, and had their marriage officiated by a Methodist minister on 09/03/71. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed their marriage in October 1971 and ruled in Baker v. Nelson that Minnesota state law does not allow same-sex marriage.

Lacking the ability to create a legal family unit through marriage, McConnell legally adopted Baker in August 1971. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it's one that several long-term same-sex couples from that era used to create legal family bonds for purposes of inheritance and medical decision-making, among other things.

The two continued to challenge state and federal laws that negatively affected same-sex couples. In 1973, they unsuccessfully filed a joint tax return with the IRS on the basis of their Blue Earth County marriage license. From 1974 through 2004, McConnell claimed Baker as a dependent and took a deduction on his tax returns as head of household. This deduction was ultimately lost to him in 2005 after federal law was amended to restrict it to adopted children under the age of 19. In 2003, the couple amended their 2000 individual tax returns and attempted to file jointly as a married couple again using their 1971 marriage license. This was rejected by the IRS, who cited DOMA. They appealed and ultimately lost their claim as they aren't allowed to re-litigate the questioned decided in Baker v. Nelson.

Baker and McConnell are still as a married couple. They live together in Minneapolis.



I may be wrong, Jon, but I believe this was the first Gay couple to sue for marriage equality in the USA. It always makes me bristle to hear the "queer" radicals, many of whom are hostile to marriage, claim that this movement was "shoved down the throats" of the Gay community by elitist Gay Rights groups. Untrue! And Baker vs. Nelson proves it. Marriage equality is a grass roots movement with deep roots in our history. I recall reading a quote from the legendary Mae West. She said Gay couples she knew in the 1920s bemoaned their inability to marry legally. Even so, many Lesbians and Gay men have long been in the habit of using wedding terminology to describe their unions.

Jon said...

Actually, Troy Perry with the MCC filed an unsuccessful marriage lawsuit in 1970, so there was at least one prior attempt. Either way, it's good for us to learn and remember these stories of our shared histories.