PHOTO: May 18, 1970 Michael McConnell and Jack Baker were married by Hennepin County Minnesota Justice of the Peace. As a law student, Baker brought his gay marriage case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Baker V. Nelson case, which was dismissed with a boiler plate ruling the court frequently used back then to avoid having to seriously decide a case. Jack Baker says, "In 1970, Minnesota laws did not forbid a marriage contract issued to a same-sex couple. A license lawfully obtained in Blue Earth County was signed by the Rev. Roger Lynn. The Grand Jury refused to approve the indictment requested by Hennepin County Attorney George M. Scott. No court has ever invalidated the contract. Even though courts refuse to 'recognize' what was issued by a Clerk of Court, the first legal gay marriage remains in effect." (Source: personal email communication dated May 31, 2013 and copied to me from Jack Baker to Don Jorovsky) See my previous posts Supreme Court on Jack Baker's gay marriage case 42 years later (3/26/13) and Jack Nichols biography with blurb of my book review (2/17/13) about the editor of a Stonewall era gay newspaper and the articles I wrote for his Internet era newspaper shortly before he died: "Jack Baker & Michael McConnell: Lunatics or Geniuses?" gaytoday.com posted June 21, 2004. Also see my previous post Life Magazine gay marriage 1971 (11/20/08) about the national magazine coverage of gay marriage and the national magazine article by Jack Star, "The Homosexual Couple," LOOK, 26 January 1971, pp. 69-71 that reported Jack Baker and Mike McConnell's gay marriage.
PHOTO: cover of book by J. Louis (Jeter Louis) Campbell III (1946), "Jack Nichols, gay pioneer: 'have you heard my message?'" Harrington Park Press (Haworth Press), 2007 -- Oregon State University Valley Library OASIS card catalog number HQ75.8.N53 C36 2007 -- A Google searchable version is now available for the book by J. Louis Campbell, "Jack Nichols, Gay Pioneer: "Have You Heard My Message?" Routledge, 2006 (see "Thomas Kraemer" references on p. xiii and p. unnumbered) See previous post Jack Nichols biography with blurb of my book review (2/17/13), which also includes all of the Gay Today articles I wrote for his internet gay newspaper shortly before he died.
In a personal email communication dated May 31, 2013 and copied to me from Jack Baker to Don Jorovsky (see photo caption above for more quotes) was Baker's wry answer to Don's question, "are you planning on getting hitched?" (I assume Don's question was made in reference to the fact that Minnesota recently legalized gay marriage by repealing a recently enacted ban of it.) Jack answered simply, "No, that would be unlawful. In 1970, Minnesota laws did not forbid a marriage contract issued to a same-sex couple." Although Jack didn't spell it out, I guess he was ironically referring to the long-standing marriage laws that forbid marrying again without being legally divorced first.
Jack also quoted me in his email as having said, ". . . early "leaders" in New York City opposed gay marriage and referred to FREE members as "farmers in Minnesota". Their concerns "were mostly interested in sexual freedom and gay liberation." In the email, Jack added, "The American Civil Liberties Union was equally condescending." I would like to back up Jack's quote of mine with the source for my opinion and my qualifications for making it. (see the photo caption above detailing my involvement with the writing of the biography of Jack Nichols, who was the editor of one of the first gay newspapers in New York City and who I got to know quite well while writing articles for his gay online newspaper before he died.)
My original opinion about Jack Baker's marriage was formed firsthand after I had witnessed reactions to it while attending the University of Minnesota and I had the opportunity to see gay activist in New York City in 1971 when I visited my aunt, who had at the time had worked for decades in the New York City news and publishing business. As an innocent youth, who mostly wanted to get publicity for my animated film artwork, she taught me how influential New York City newspapers and TV networks were in spreading a story nationally and even internationally. I quickly discovered that except for a few sympathetic and closeted gay editors, the mainstream TV and newspaper editors in New York were very biased toward doing stories originating in New York City and Washington, D.C. because they could easily verify the story.
Despite the east coast bias of editors, in the 1970s a couple of stories about gay marriage, including photographs of Jack Baker's wedding and the religious gay weddings performed by Rev. Tory Perry, were published by New York editors in nationally distributed mass circulation magazines that were regularly read by both adults and school children as assigned reading. These gay marriage stories were an inspiration to me and motivated me to join Jack Baker's group that was fighting for gay rights at the University of Minnesota. (See previous post Life Magazine gay marriage 1971 (11/20/08) about the national magazine coverage of gay marriage and the national magazine article by Jack Star, "The Homosexual Couple," LOOK, 26 January 1971, pp. 69-71 that reported Jack Baker and Mike McConnell's gay marriage. Also see the article I wrote for an academic gay history site that included other references to the dream of gay marriages in the 1970s: Thomas Kraemer, "Corvallis, Oregon State University gay activism 1969-2004," outhistory.org posted April 30, 2010.
However, after the initial coverage of gay marriages in the 1970s, editors largely avoided the subject of gay marriage probably because of the angry reactions of both gay liberation leaders, who had goals of sexual freedom, and homophobic individuals, who wrote angry letters to the editor threatening to cancel magazine or newspaper subscriptions because they couldn't stand seeing something so "disgusting" as gay couples. Gay leaders at the time had rejected marriage because they had adopted the 1960s heterosexual idea of free love and the feminist ethic that marriage was an obsolete institution designed by heterosexual men in order to enslave women. (See previous post Gay 1976 newspaper controversy (5/3/06) for an example of the angry mob reaction to a 1976 newspaper story about gay activist women who loved each other so much they wanted to get married, but thought it was an impossible dream.)
Around 2005, my opinions were cemented by talking to a man who was the editor of one of the first nationally distributed gay newspapers from New York City in the 1970s, Jack Nichols, who had also participated in the earlier homophile movement predating Stonewall. By the time I talked to him in the 21st Century he had become a wise old man with the only agenda of asking me to help an author review his biography that was being written. (See photo above.) He freely acknowledged the biases of New York City activists as being toward the gay liberation ideas of free love and the rejection of marriage. Nichols seemed genuinely unbiased with no personal stake in defending any position. Instead of trying to defend the rejection of Jack Baker's marriage by 1970s gay activists, Nichols encouraged me to write an article for the internet newspaper he had founded and edited. (See "Jack Baker & Michael McConnell: Lunatics or Geniuses?" gaytoday.com posted June 21, 2004)
Something else Jack Nichols told me was his impression of why Jack Baker's gay marriage had not received more attention amongst scholars and others. He believed that until recently, Jack Baker had done little to promote his story to the New York and Hollywood media moguls who have the power and means to drive international attention to it. Secondly, he said the few interactions he and his acquaintances had had with Jack Baker in the 1970s saw him to be a very analytical engineer-like personality who wanted to focus on his law career and personal privacy. As a result, nobody was motivated to take the effort to know Jack Baker better, especially because he was thousands of miles from New York City. Nichols agreed in 2005 with my theory that back East bias of the media was not helping spread his story. (I recently experienced this bias several times when I've contacted New York producers of national TV programs with gay-friendly stories, but who were unwilling to correct their stories to include a mention of Jack Baker's gay marriage case as being the first one, instead of the gay marriages they had reported, which weren't even actual legal marriages. These producers refused to look at even photographs of law books showing Baker's Supreme Court case.)
Based on my experience in he 1970s with gay women wanting to get married and my later experience of living in San Francisco during the 1980s AIDS tragedy, which killed many gay men, I witnessed a shift in power from national gay rights leaders being dominated by men to being driven by lesbians. Out of respect for those who died of AIDS and the gay women who had a personal interest in legalizing gay marriage, I bet few people, other than anti-gay groups, would want to tie the ethnographic shift, from the sexual freedom to an ethic of gay marriage, on the failure of the gay liberation goals to be implemented without harm. Having studied history, I predict the ethic of sexual freedom and the rejection of marriage will surface again in the future, especially if medical technology and legal frameworks exist to better support such human social behavior in the future. After all, any student of history can tell you how the institution of marriage has changed over human history due to legal and social changes.
No matter what the future may bring with gay marriage as a social institution, I remain supportive of a world where marriage is a right that individuals are free to choose or not choose at their free will. I continue to oppose marriage being used as a tool of oppression by anybody. I also remain supportive of a world where individuals are free to choose who and how many people they wish to have sex with, but of course only with the restriction that they only have sex safely and responsibly as technology will allow (e.g. the invention of condoms allowed for sex with fewer pregnancies and less disease transmission). I envision a future where the only medical harm with having sex will be the possible financial and emotional harms associated with being intimate with another human.
Finally, based on my reading of the meta-history of the writing of history over time, I predict it will take a few more generations before mainstream historians will properly acknowledge the contribution of Jack Baker's gay marriage activism because only then will the current reasons for ignoring it be gone. I hope some historian will find this post and acknowledge my prediction in a piece he publishes on May 18, 2070! (If I'm still alive, I will promise not gloat and say I told you so!)