Jack Baker (activist)

Jack Baker (activist)

Jack Baker (born Richard John Baker, 1942) is an early LGBT activist in the state of Minnesota. He is known for being a founding officer of the first LGBT student group in America and the first openly gay person elected as student body president of a major university. He and his partner, James Michael McConnell, were the first American gay couple to seek a marriage license and the first gay couple to establish a legal relationship via adult adoption.

tudent activism

On May 18, 1969, (pre-Stonewall), the group Fight Repression of Erotic Expression (FREE), was founded at the University of Minnesota. This was the first Gay student organization in the United States. Jack Baker was its first President. A successor organization, the Queer Student Cultural Center, is officially recognized as a student group. Baker, however, rejects outright the label "Queer" as applied to him or his lover.

In 1971, Baker ran for President of the student body at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. His theme, "Student Control over Student Concerns," urged students "to search out a new self-respect."

Baker attracted interest in his campaign with a poster that showed him crouched in casual jeans and lady's high-heeled pumps. The punch line was "Put Yourself in Jack Baker's Shoes". As a well-known gay activist, he was attacking sexism and homosexism in one daring move. Distributed widely on campus, the poster attracted much attention. Most copies were stolen, only to reappear in dorm rooms. Later, some were offered for sale. (A copy of this poster is in the archives of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies of the University of Minnesota Libraries.)

Regents were stunned when Jack Baker won the election. He was the first openly gay person to be elected as student body president at any major university. Worse, he had proven his point that an openly gay person could be elected to public office in the United States. Surely, this was a "first" on many levels, a pre-view of the future.

As student body president, Baker called on the legislature to appoint a student to the Board of Regents. Meanwhile, Baker persuaded the Regents to allow students to sit on Regent committees, and to start a student-run bookstore. He had also proposed that the University purchase a local FM radio station, and build student-owned and operated apartments. After Baker graduated from law school, the Governor signed a law requiring one Regent to be a student.

Baker was re-elected easily in 1972, something no other U of M student body president had ever done. Baker's sexual preference was never a major issue. Focusing on campus issues, he campaigned on the need to complete projects he started. Baker was re-elected with 43% of the vote in a 9-way race.

Gay marriage

During the fall quarter, 1969, Baker completed his legal research course. While on winter break, he decided to test his research skill. Baker wanted to know what would be required to obtain a marriage license. To his surprise, it took only 10 minutes to find his answer. Minnesota's marriage statute did not restrict marriage to just one man and one woman.

As amended in 1941, this is the full text: "Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract, to which the consent of the parties, capable in law of contracting, is essential. Lawful marriage hereafter may be contracted only when a license has been obtained therefor as provided by law and when such marriage is contracted in the presence of two witnesses and solemnized by one authorized, or whom the parties in good faith believe to be authorized, so to do. Marriages subsequent to April 26, 1941, not so contracted shall be null and void." Elsewhere, same-sex couple was not included in the list of reasons that could be used by a court to void a marriage.

So, on May 18, 1970, McConnell's 28th birthday, the pair applied for a marriage license in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Learning how to marry was the reason Baker went to law school, and fulfilling his promise to McConnell seemed so easy. Their's would be the first demand for government recognition of gay marriage in the United States. That explains why the reaction was swift and angry. They had stirred a debate that would rage worldwide for several decades.

The Hennepin County Attorney instructed the Clerk of Court to deny them a license. He then asked the grand jury to indict the Rev. Roger Lynn, a Methodist minister who solemnized the marriage. They refused. Undaunted, Baker and McConnell sued in District Court and lost. Their appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court was rejected on October 15, 1971. Citing the Book of Genesis, Baker v. Nelson said Minnesota "does not recognize" same-sex marriage. The Minnesota decision is regularly cited as precedent in gay marriage challenges.

In August, 1971 - before the Minnesota decision was issued - the couple applied for and was awarded a marriage license in Blue Earth County, Mankato, and were married on September 3, 1971, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They immediately claimed legal marriage rights. Without objection, McConnell's employer, the Hennepin County Library ignored the County Attorney and enrolled Baker as a member of McConnell's family health insurance. In spite of state laws that later forbid such practices, Baker continued to be covered by McConnell's family health insurance until he opted for Medicare coverage early in 2008.

In June 1972, at the State Convention of the DFL (Democratic) party, Baker guided a group of gay delegates to persuade the Convention to adopt a Party platform plank supporting equal marriage rights for all adults. This was the first time any major United States political party voiced support for gay marriage. Surprisingly, the DFL never again endorsed full equality for gay men and women.

An appeal of the Minnesota decision to the U.S. Supreme Court was dismissed on October 10, 1972. The high court said the issue lacked "a substantial federal question".

In 2003, Baker decided that the courts had matured sufficiently to deal sensibly with the issue of same-sex marriage. The couple amended their individual 2000 returns, replacing them with a single joint return. The IRS rejected their claim, citing the Defense of Marriage Act. They sued in federal court for a refund of $837, which was the excess of taxes each paid on individual returns. The U.S. District Court ruled that the Minnesota decision applied retroactively to their marriage license. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision on July 17, 2006.

A 39-year quest for full equality came to an abrupt end in February 2005, as Baker was preparing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Wayward radiation melted Baker's left ear drum when the CyberKnife® center, [ [http://www.stjosephs-stpaul.org/CyberKnife/index.cfm] St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul, MN] targeted 300 rads to seal a vein above the ear. Dr. Ellen Bellairs, its Medical Director, insisted that no radiation was aimed at the left ear drum. Dr. Samuel C. Levine, Associate Professor, Neurotology, The University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic, Minneapolis, labelled that assertion “untrue”. As explained by Dr. Levine, “there is an umbrella effect along each beam” of what CyberKnife® refers to as “targeted radiation”. A series of errors led to brain damage. Baker was forced to abandon his betrothal promise to obtain for McConnell a marriage that is legally-recognized in Minnesota.

A wise one once said: Love heals all. For Baker, that is certainly true. His lifemate guided him through a recovery that continues to be slow, painful and unresolved.

Baker would have asked the high court a single, simple question: (1) if no court had terminated their lawfully-licensed, fully-executed contract of marriage, and (2) if no court had terminated the rights of property that vested on September 3, 1971, how can they be denied their right to share in marital benefits? The only argument offered by the courts is, you're wrong because you can't be right. He continues to insist that separate and unequal is not the American way.

Gay adult adoption

Baker and McConnell were adult males. They were each capable in law of contracting, and Minnesota statutes did not forbid them to contract marriage with each other. There was no legitimate reason why a license to marry should be denied, yet it was.

McConnell was persistent. He wanted to ensure that no member of his family could inherit any of his property. If a Clerk of Court could concoct an impediment to marriage where none existed, what would stop courts from inventing more excuses? And what would stop bigoted judges from ignoring instructions in his will? He wanted all of his property to go to Baker, and he wanted a legal guarantee.

Baker suggested adoption as an alternative, until the right to marry had been affirmed. He consulted third year law students. None could see any legal reason why McConnell could not adopt Baker. One offered to handle the paperwork.

The judge assigned to hear the petition invented a special rule that did not exist in the statutes. He refused to approve the adoption unless everyone in McConnell's family who might inherit his property consented. That caused needless aggrivation among adults, who saw no reason to get involved.

Eventually, the judge admitted that state law did not forbid the adoption of one adult male by another. In August, 1971, the District Court of Hennepin County issued a decree, granting the petition. It is believed to be the first adult adoption between an openly gay couple. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,943880,00.html] Time magazine, "Adopting a Lover", Sep 06, 1971]

The Clerk of Court was not happy. He leaked unsigned copies of the decree to news reporters, in defiance of laws that required adoption proceeding to remain private. The judge later confirmed to news reporters that he had signed the decree, but denied that he had leaked confidential court documents. Truth is, both broke the law. Baker's privacy was violated by bigoted court officials who objected to his life style.

The decree of the District Court allowed Baker to assume the name Pat Lyn McConnell, a combination of names that relate to the family. A copy of the decree was attached to the application for permission to take the Bar exam. The Minnesota Supreme Court chose to disregard the decree and to identify Baker by his given name on the certificate of admission to the Bar. No reason was given. Since all members of the Court approved Baker's admission to the Bar, an appeal would serve no useful purpose.

In Minnesota, it is not illegal to use an assumed name. Here are three of the names that Baker used at different times during his career: Richard J. Baker, Jack Baker, Pat Lyn McConnell.

Judicial election candidacy

In 2002, Baker filed papers with the Secretary of State to challenge the re-election of Paul H. Anderson as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) mailed all licensed attorneys a statement prepared by each candidate, along with a ballot to vote their preference.

More than 14,900 ballots were mailed, but only 3084 were returned. The conclusion must be that 79.3% of the attorneys in Minnesota voted for no endorsement. Yet, the MSBA proclaimed on its website that "MSBA members overwhelmingly prefer incumbents." Baker complained that the MSBA had "crossed the line into the area of untruthfullness". Only after the news media filed untruthful stories did the MSBA admit on its website that only the members "who voted" prefered the incumbents.

Baker received 31% of the vote, the highest vote total a challenger has ever received. [ [http://electionresults.sos.state.mn.us/20021105/ElecRslts.asp?M=J&P=A Minnesota Secretary of State: 2002 Judicial Election Results] ] (No challenger has ever defeated an incumbent Minnesota Supreme Court Justice in a reelection bid.) Anderson spent $88,000 on his re-election campaign; Baker spent less than $100 on his campaign.

() 19:47, 10 October 2008 (UTC)

Current status

They remain committed to each other, and continue to live in a modest home in South Minneapolis. McConnell is currently a Coordinating Librarian for Library Services in the Hennepin County Library system, which recently absorbed the Minneapolis Library system. Baker is largely retired from his corporate law practice. He is active in the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, and writes occasional articles for local newspapers.


External links

* [http://www.may-18-1970.org Baker-McConnell website] (may be down)
* [http://www.lmaw.org/freedom/page09.htm Photo of 1970 filing for marriage license]
* [http://www.pulsetc.com/article.php?sid=2407 Recent article by Baker on Judicial ethics]
* [http://andrejkoymasky.com/liv/fam/biob1/bake07.html info on student body president election & Baker-McConnell marriage]
* [http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/same_sex_marriage.html GLBTQ encyclopedia article on same-sex marriage referencing the case]

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