First legally wed same-sex couple in MN donates papers

The thousands of personal documents detail the couple’s fight for recognition.

Tiffany Lukk

After decades of strife, the University of Minnesota recently honored the country’s first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license. 
 
At an event last week, the University celebrated Michael McConnell and Jack Baker’s donation of their personal documents, which includes love letters and court documents.
 
University experts say the donation adds extensive documentation to the fight for gay rights.
 
Minnesota’s marriage law did not mention gender when McConnell and Baker applied for marriage in 1970 in Hennepin County, but the two were denied a marriage license.
 
They took their case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, where they were once again denied.
 
Baker changed his name to the gender-neutral Pat Lyn McConnell, and the couple applied for a license in a different Minnesota county. Their request was accepted and they became the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license.
 
The University offered McConnell a job, but the school rescinded the offer after learning of his sexual orientation.
 
Forty-one years after they applied for marriage, President Eric Kaler said at last week’s event that the University’s values have completely changed, and he called McConnell’s treatment reprehensible.
 
After receiving the apology, McConnell and Baker decided to donate papers they had concerning their relationship to the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection, an archive dedicated to LGBT studies.
 
The collection includes court papers from Baker v. Nelson, journals and copies of their marriage certificate. Love letters sent between the two and letters sent to them from others are also included in the collection.
 
“Jack and Michael were visible nationally and internationally,” said Lisa Vecoli, the Tretter Collection’s curator. “People wrote to them from countries around the world and asked for their advice, offered their support, offered their encouragement. And that took place at a time when for most people, their very survival depended on remaining hidden.”
 
People from all over the country have come to see McConnell’s files, Vecoli said.
 
The University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Programs Office’s director, Stef Wilenchek, said they thought McConnell and Baker’s visibility and advocacy was an important part of teaching people about gay rights during the 1970s.
 
“I think that just their personal stories about their lives and the homophobia they experienced and their bumping up against the institutions that weren’t supported [helped to educate],” Wilencheck said.
 
McConnell and Baker are releasing a book about their lives, “The Wedding Heard ’Round the World,” in January.