Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

June 26, 2017

Perhaps some day June 26 will be a holiday recognizing the import of the US Supreme Court decision on that date in 2015 when the Court decided in Obergefell v Hodges that same -sex marriage was legal according to the US Constitution.

Some day.
Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell

Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell met at a barn party on Halloween night, 1966, in Norman, Oklahoma. They fell in love and on March 10, 1967 Baker proposed to McConnell.  McConnell said yes, but only if they could marry.

Yes you read correctly. It was 1967 and of course the large majority of Americans would have found the idea of two men marrying as laughable as it was illegal.

Long road

In 1970, the couple lived in Minneapolis and in May they kept their and several other same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses to Minneapolis court clerk Gerald R. Nelson. The clerk denied the licenses saying that marriage was limited to “persons of the opposite sex,” though the Minnesota laws said nothing about such a limitation.

Baker and McConnell sued. Not only did the judge uphold the clerk’s decision, but he specifically ordered that no such licenses be issued. 

Despite the setback, both men were determined to find a way forward. McConnell adopted Baker in August 1971 so that the couple would be able to access some tax benefits and inheritance rights for each other. Also Jack Baker legally assumed the gender-neutral name “Pat Lynn McConnell” and on August 16, 1971, using Baker’s new name, the town clerk of Mankato, a small town west of Minneapolis in Blue Earth County, issued them a marriage license.

Married

On September 3, 1971, the Rev. Roger Lynn of the United Methodist Church officiated their marriage  in a private ceremony 

The Blue Earth County Attorney challenged the legitimacy of their marriage license, but a grand jury “found the question not worth pursuing.” Baker and McConnell considered themselves legally married from then on.

Six weeks after their wedding, on October 15, 1971, the Minnesota  Supreme Court ruled that marriage “is a union of man and woman” that the Constitution did not provide for same-sex couples to get married.

Federal appeal

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson
Baker and McConnell appealed their case to the US Supreme Court. Almost exactly a year later, on October 10, 1972, that Court stated: “Appeal from Sup. Ct. Minn. dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.” 

That one sentence established a powerful and long-lasting precedent, one often used by the opponents of marriage equality for the next 30 years.

A life together

Richard John Baker v. Gerald R. Nelson

Baker and McConnell continued their lives together as a happily married couple and continued their activism. Baker became an attorney and a local politician, and McConnell had a 37 year career as a librarian with Hennepin County. They have both retired and continue to live in Minnesota.

Wedding Heard ‘Round the World

Richard John Baker v. Gerald R Nelson

In 2016 the University of Minnesota Press published The Wedding Heard 'Round the World, America's First Gay Marriage written  by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker.
Link >>> Marriage Equality dot org story

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