Historical And Legal Analysis: The Evolution Of Gay Marriage | Jive in the [415] Blog | Gay LGBT News Political Commentary

April 3, 2013

Historical And Legal Analysis: The Evolution Of Gay Marriage

Mike McConnell and Jack Baker try to get a Hennepin County marriage license on May 18, 1970.

The Modern History Of Gay Marriage In The United States From 1970 - Present

By Roy Steele

Part I. The Heroic And Courageous Pioneers Of Gay Marriage 1970 - 1984


Jack Baker and Michael McConnell met at a Halloween party in 1966 when they were 24 years old, and have been together ever since (nearly 47 years if you’re curious).  Patrick Condon, an Associated Press reporter, described the societal pressures that existed at the time:
McConnell, at this first meeting, expressed his belief that gay people should not be treated like second-class citizens. Not long after, Baker —a U.S. Air Force veteran with an undergraduate degree in engineering — was fired from a job at Tinker Air Force base for being gay.
Soon the couple relocated to Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, McConnell to take a job at its library and Baker to study law. He joined a campus group called FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression), an early gay-rights group.

"The fear then wasn't that you'd be discriminated against, that was a given," said Jean Tretter, a member of FREE who went on to decades of gay activism in Minnesota. "You were a lot more afraid that someone might come after you with a shotgun."

This was the socio-political climate that existed when Jack proposed to Michael in 1967. Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, and a taboo subject, that forced gay people to live in fear and hide their sexuality.  

May 1970 - - - Jack Baker and Michael McConnell went to the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota to apply for a marriage license. County Clerk Gerald Nelson refused to issue the license because Jack and Michael were a same-sex couple, and gay marriage was unheard of.

Jack and Michael filed a lawsuit to force Nelson to issue the license, because Minnesota’s marriage laws had no explicit gender requirements that the applicant’s must be opposite-sex couples.

The District Court dismissed Baker v. Nelson, and the case was appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. In October 1971 the state Supreme Court  dismissed the appeal, and said that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples did not violate the Due Process Clause, because procreation created a compelling state interest that marriage preserved.

October 1972 - - - The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and they issued a ruling one year after the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed the case. The order said "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question."

Attorney’s, Judges and legal scholars have debated the meaning of that one sentence opinion for many years, despite the fact that marriage laws have always been the province of each state.

Jack and Michael were married in 1971, and they were the first gay couple to wed in the United States. They traveled to Minnesota’s Blue Earth County and obtained a marriage license, and used a gender neutral name in place of “Jack”. Their marriage license was challenged in court, and it’s never been invalidated.
"People at the time said these guys were crazy," said Phil Duran, legal counsel to OutFront Minnesota, the state's principal gay rights lobby. "I think today, most people would say, 'Holy mackerel, you saw this when no one else did.' History will vindicate them. It already has."
There’s no question that Jack Baker and Michael McConnell were fearless pioneers in the gay civil rights and marriage equality movement. They fought for justice and equality, and demanded that the state respect and recognize their loving committed union, when large segments of society wanted to hospitalize or imprison homosexuals.

I’m in awe of their courage, and have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for their unrelenting fortitude. They took a politically impossible stand in 1970, and their historic activism gave birth to the marriage equality movement we know today.  

December 1973 --- Dr. Alfred Friedman, president of the American Psychiatric Association, announced that the organization conducted a  review of scientific and psychosocial data and research of homosexuality. Based on the review, they concluded that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, and the diagnostic classification as such was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

A map of the state of California by jiveinthe415.com.

California’s Progressive Past

August 1979 --- Tom Brougham, a Berkeley, California city employee suggested and introduced the concept of domestic partnerships to his new employer. Health benefits were only available to a married spouse of a city employee, and Brougham couldn’t add his partner, Barry Warren,  to his employer sponsored insurance. That prompted him to devise and propose a domestic partner registry.

San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt was appointed to replace Supervisor Harvey Milk, after he was assassinated. In 1982, Britt introduced  domestic partnership legislation based on Brougham’s concept. The Board of Supervisors passed the law which Mayor Dianne Feinstein vetoed.

December 1984 --- The City of Berkeley, California was the first city or municipality in the United States to extend employee benefits to unmarried couples of any gender or sexual orientation. Tom Brougham was the first employee to apply for the new benefits.

straight talk in a queer world.       jiveinthe415.com              
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