50 years ago, a gay couple outsmarted a court into letting them marry. Here they are today.
via The Today Show

Michael and Jack McConnell will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on September 3rd and it won't only be a big moment for them, it'll be a landmark for the entire gay rights movement.

The couple was legally married 32 years before Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004 and 43 before it became federally legal in 2015.

How did they do it? They outsmarted a system that wasn't prepared to address same-sex marriage.


Back in 1970, the couple applied for a marriage license at the Hennepin County courthouse in Minnesota and were turned down. They decided to try again using a legal loophole that Jack discovered. Jack was so determined to get married that he attended law school in the 1960s to find out how the couple could do so legally.

"The marriage statute in Minnesota, I found that there was nothing in there that said we couldn't get married," Jack told Today.

Jack legally changed his name to the gender-neutral Pat Lyn Baker so that it wouldn't garner any unnecessary attention on the marriage license application. Then, Michael went alone to the Blue Earth County, Minnesota court to apply for a license.

The couple was in a hurry to get married because the first license was under review by the courts in the state of Minnesota.

The court clerk approved the couple's license application and on September 3, 1971, the couple was married in a ceremony presided over by Methodist Pastor Roger Lynn.

"There was a cake and rather than a bride and groom on the top, there were two grooms," Lynn recalled. The pastor would later lose his job for officiating the wedding but was later reinstated on appeal.

"We knew from day one when we were legally married in 1971 that we were right — that we had followed the law to the letter," Michael McConnell told NBC News.

The Story Of America's First Gay Wedding 50 Years Ago www.youtube.com

Unfortunately, when it was discovered that Pat Lynn Baker was a male, the clerk at the Blue Earth County court refused to record the license. In 1972, their first case made it to the Minnesota Supreme Court but it was dismissed without a hearing.

The couple believed that it was their legal right to get married because there were no laws against it in the state of Minnesota. "What is not forbidden is permitted, and nowhere in Minnesota's statutes was same-sex marriage forbidden," Jack said according to Financial Times.

With no proof of legal marriage, the couple could not receive spousal benefits, even after gay marriage was legalized in 2015.

Last year, after a prolonged legal battle, the couple's 1971 marriage was deemed legal.

"This just simply proves that the first same-sex marriage ever recorded in the public files of any civil government anywhere in the world happened in Minnesota," Jack McConnell said.

"The bullies with power have been bullying us for all this time, and we won," Jack said.

True

Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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