1971 Wedding Opened Door For Thursday Gay Marriage Celebrations

Gonzalez, Craig

By Don Davis

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell began the fight that ends in victory Thursday as gay couples around Minnesota get married.

Many news stories will proclaim the Thursday festivities as the first legal same-sex marriages in the state. But Baker and McConnell would beg to differ, having exchanged vows in a Victorian Minneapolis house on Sept. 3, 1971.

“Because our contract was not revoked by any court, the first legal gay marriage stayed in effect,” Baker recently wrote in his blog.

The state Supreme Court ruled that marriage was between a man and a woman, but Baker said it did not take away their marriage license.

It was believed to be the first gay marriage in the country. Hennepin County officials refused to grant a marriage license, and the pair eventually got the license in Mankato and were wed in what was a national news story. After a few years of activism, Baker and McConnell dropped out of sight, Baker as a lawyer and McConnell as a librarian.

Both are mostly retired in Minneapolis now, at age 70, and not talking much to the media.

Many pro-gay marriage advocates are making plenty of noise as they celebrate a Minnesota law passed in May to overturn a state provision enacted after the 1971 wedding that specifically bans same-sex couples from marrying.

The state’s biggest marriage celebration comes in Minneapolis, where Mayor R.T. Rybak plans to marry 42 same-sex couples right after midnight during a celebration expected to last from 10:15 p.m. today until 5 a.m. Thursday. Most couples are from the Twin Cities, but one pair will come from Austin, Texas.

Other Minnesota communities also plan mass weddings, while many couples plan private ones.

Minnesota and Rhode Island this week join 11 other states in making gay marriage legal.

In Duluth, 22-year-old Brook Mattila was emotional when she and her partner, 25-year-old Heidi Engstad, obtained their marriage license.

“It’s just fun to be a part of history,” Mattila said.

Another Duluth couple, Tim Robinson and Gary Lundstrom, did not go for the midnight vows. Instead, they plan 7 a.m. Thursday ceremony, followed by a breakfast.

The couple’s wedding invitation says: “16 years ago we wed. Now we will marry.”

For some, Thursday’s historic wedding will bring a mix of emotions.

Katie Craig and Mary Gonzalez plan to wed in Crookston.

“We want to get it done,” California native Gonzalez said. “We want to be legal like everybody else,”

Despite the joy she expects Thursday, Warren, Minn., native Craig said that coming out virtually destroyed her relationship with her mother, with whom she hasn’t spoken in more than a year. “My family doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t want to acknowledge it.”

Minnesota same-sex marriage proponents are using Thursday’s events to raise money for lawmakers, mostly in rural areas, whose votes for gay marriage could hurt them at the polls.

A Twin Cities couple together a dozen years, Margaret Miles and Cathy ten Broeke, wrote to like-minded Minnesotans Tuesday explaining how happy they are, and asking for donations to help those lawmakers.

“Their re-election in 2014 will be a signal to the 37 non-marriage states that a vote for the freedom to marry is the best decision for the future,” the couple wrote.

Thursday’s gay marriages will be historic, but not as shocking as the 1971 one between Baker and McConnell.

After their 1971 ceremony, they landed on national television shows and in Look magazine. Baker said their wedding and related Minnesota events “ignited a change worldwide.”

“Working together, Minnesotans used the power of ideas to define the modern gay movement,” Baker wrote last month. “Michael McConnell and I remain proud to have ignited a dream that continues to transform an entire world.”

Reporters Mike Creger, LaReesa Sandretsky and Will Beaton contributed to this story.