The Wedding Heard ’Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage

The Wedding Heard ’Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage


>>Good afternoon, and welcome to the National
Archives. My name is Michael Hussy, I am going to do some brief introductory remarks and
we will get started with the program. Welcome again to the William McGowan theater and the
book discussion The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage with our
speakers Michael McConnell and Jack Baker. Welcome, also, to those watching us on The
National Archives YouTube channel. Before we get started today, I would like to tell
you a little bit about two upcoming programs that will take place on the theater, and also
our YouTube channel Tuesday October 11 at noon author Stephen Puleo will discuss and
sign his recent book American Treasures: The secret efforts to save the Declaration of
Independence, The Constituion and the Gettysburg Address. He charts the little known journeys of these documents crafting a sweeping history
of a nation united to preserve its definition of democracy. On Thursday, October 13, at
noon, we will screen a new historical documentary film, the Year of the Tiger JFK 1962, which
featured images, film footage and audio recordings from the National Archives and other sources. to chronicle the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Following the screening, director Joe Looby will discuss the film and answer audience questions.
To learn about these and other public programs and exhibits consult our monthly calendar
of events in print or online at archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby, along with
sign-up sheets, so that you can receive it by regular mail or E-mail. And you will also
find brochures about National Archives programs and activities. One other way to get involved
with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation.
The foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs
such as this. You can pick up an application for membership in the lobby or become a member
online at archives foundation.org. Okay. Now, I have the great honor to introduce
Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, who I just had a wonderful chat with back in the green
room. Our guests today again Michael and Jack were at the forefront of many of the struggles
for LGBTQ, civil equality, marriage rights, equal treatment for those serving in the military
or those Veterans who served in the military, community centers, all sorts of things that
you can hear about from their talk and in their book. I wanted to give you a few highlights.
In 1970, they unsuccessfully applied for a marriage license in Hennepin County in Minnesota.
They took their case to the courts, ending up at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case titled
Baker v. Nelson. The Supreme Court ruled against them. In 2015, the Supreme Court specifically
overturned the 1972 Baker v. Nelson decision in the marriage equality case. Also in 1970,
a busy year for these two gentlemen, Michael was denied a job with the University of Minnesota
library system because he is gay and also because some of the publicity around their
application for a marriage license. He sued the university in a case called McConnell
v. Anderson, denied by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court decided
not to hear the case any further. However, this was part of a growing number
of employment discrimination cases that were starting to gather in the federal court system.
In 1976, Baker and McConnell sued the Veterans Administration in federal court. This is McConnell
and Baker case for military benefits offered to married service members with dependent
spouses but were denied to them. I am happy to say that their pioneering efforts
are part of this nation’s permanent historical record. As part of the National Archives collection
of over 13 billion documents. Their work will forever be one of the many thousands of American
stories preserved here at our facilities across the country. Samples of documents related
to their work, their lawsuits in particular and many other LGBTQ related topics are now
available on a TUMBLR account which is Stonewall @ NARA the LGBTQ employee Affinity Group of which I am a president, has created and that is available at LGBTQarchives.TUMBLR.com. many of the cases cited
will be available in the National Archives online catalog in full. After their talk,
Michael and Jack will be taking questions, there are microphones at either side of the
room if you would please use those. They will be signing copies of their book one level
in front of archives bookstore. Enough of me, and please help me welcome Michael McConnell
and Jack Baker. (APPLAUSE)
>>Since I am the most talkative of the two of us, I am the one that’s going to be doing
most of the talking during this presentation, so bear with me on that. But Jack gets his
turn too. Today Jack and I are here to speak with you
about our new memoir, The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage. We
also want to tell you a bit about our personal history. To give you a taste of the memoir,
which I see as much as a love story as it is a legal story, I want to begin by reading
the prologue to the book. “Jack finishes dinner first and lays his folded
napkin on the solid surface of our round oak table. How many times have I seen him do this?
This man, my husband for more than 40 years, hasn’t changed much since the young man I
met when I was a college student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma in the 1960s.
I know everyone sees themself as the center of their own stage and every couple feels
like they are creating their own universe. But for us, getting married really did set
up tremors that ripped through the solid surface of our culture. After our union was announced,
we received thousands of letters from around the United States, from Canada and Mexico,
from Chile, Argentina, Norway, Israel and India. The letter writers hailed our wedding
as both a model for action and an inspiration for dreams. Of course we didn’t think of ourselves
that way. We were young and in love. We were announcing who we were, pledging to love and
honor each other to uphold our commitment through sickness and health. But we did understand
that we were jump starting society’s change by tossing a monkey wrench into an antiquated
system. Then we stood back, our arms around each other, and waited as the system struggled
to reboot. My husband is Jack Baker, he became the darling of the national media in 1970,
the year he was elected the first openly gay student body president. My name is Michael
McConnell, ours is the world’s first gay marriage.” Today, Jack and I are here to speak with you
about our new memoir. The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage. Yes.
We also want to tell you a bit about our personal history to give you a taste of the memoir.
Now, I want to tell you a little bit about my personal family history and background.
This experience set the tone for my decision to live openly as a gay man at a time when
many could not. When Jack and I committed in 1967, Jack was a practicing engineer and
was working on his master’s on business administration. He eventually got his law degree because of
his promise to me and his commitment to gay rights.
Over the years, he took on the military and won. He ran as an openly gay candidate for
student body president of a student body of over 43,000 students and won, not once, but
twice. He helped established one of the first gay student organizations on an American campus.
And he also ran for city council in the city of Minneapolis and for the Minnesota Supreme
Court. But now Jack wants to tell you a little bit
about his history, so let me have him do that.>>Jack Baker: I grew up in — well, my parents
— when I was three and four years old my parents — my mother died when I was three
and my father died when I was four; and as a result I ended up in a boarding school that
was run by the Catholic Church and funded by the county, that was in Chicago. Just outside
of Chicago. At the boarding school there were 500 homeless
boys and 350 homeless girls. It made me wonder, and that was just the Catholic Church. And
— and I assumed that there were an equal number of homeless children run by other religions
like the Methodists and the Baptists and the Presbyterians and other religions, it made
me wonder as a child why there were so many homeless children in and around Chicago. But
at three, four, five, six years old you don’t ask questions like that, you just simply live
your own life and try to get along with everybody. So, I graduated. I spent 11 years 9 months
there at the — the name of the school was Merriville Academy. I spent the 11 years 9
months. I graduated from high school in — at the age of 17. And then went on to the Illinois
— I joined the Illinois –I enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Technology. I was not
dissatisfied with the IIT, but some of my peers were and they wanted to go and travel
to Arizona. And so rather be left alone by myself at IIT without my friends I decided
to go with them. And spent a year at the University of Arizona. And there they have a mandatory
— at the University of Arizona, at the time, they had a mandatory requirement for students
to go into — have to enroll in ROTC. A lot of students didn’t like that, and they didn’t
take it seriously. I decided that as long as I am here, I might as well take it seriously.
And so, the — the instructor was a — an officer, decided to recommend me for — to
be a — they said if I would enroll in the Air Force, and agree to take an additional
two years of commitment with the Air Force, that the Air Force would send me back to the
same place from which I left, which would be the University of Arizona, and they would
pay full scholarship and pay all of the tuition and all of the bills and everything while
I was in serving in the Air Force. I decided to take them up on that and joined the officer
education commissioning program. As generally happens in the military, documents get lost.
And so, I found a way to training for the Air Force, but the documents got lost and
as a result it was a year or so before I finally got enrolled and transferred and I was sent
to the University of Oklahoma and that’s where I finished my engineering degree. And then
went to take on the active duty. And at that point the Air Force decided to renege on its
commitment and decided it would not give me the officer commission that I had been promised
in exchange for the two additional years. And so I said that, well, if you are not going
to keep your promise then there is no reason why I have to keep my promise. And I was really
surprised that they said that’s fine. And they issued an order to — to discharge, and
on the way out I was given a — an airplane ticket back to — back to Norman Oklahoma
and honorable discharge. Later, after I was out for a year or so, out
of the blue the Air Force just decided to change the — the honorable discharge to a
general discharge for no conceivable reason just in the mail I got a letter saying we
are going to change your discharge certificate. And they issued me a new one. And I decided
that there is no way I am going to accept that. And that’s when I — I applied to the
American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and asked them to represent me with the Air
Force to get the discharge certificate reinstated. And to make a long story short, after a year
or two, and a lot of arguing with them, they finally agreed to do that. And so, that essentially
got me on the trail of wanting to — to take it and not accept anything from people who,
you know, were going to treat us unequally. That’s when I went back to the University
of Oklahoma — in Norman, Oklahoma, that’s where Mike and I met, and Mike can talk more
about that.>>Michael McConnell: When Jack returned to
Oklahoma, by this time I had been an out gay man for a number of years. And my family was
— I was one of those fortunate people who never grew up with guilt shame or hid or lied
about who I was. And my family, after a very short initial period of kind of, really? We
had no idea. Which I found rather amusing since I did not consider myself to be the
butchest guy in the world. But nonetheless my family was very loving and protective.
I lived in a cocoon in the middle of the Bible belt with the Baptist minister living two
doors down from my parents. At the same time, I felt like I could be who I was and felt
confident about myself. So, by the time I was in college and had met Jack, I had kind
of been around the block. So, with my family, it was, you don’t mess with Michael. Because
if you mess with Michael, you mess with our family. If you mess with our family, you are
in for a world of trouble. And that’s the kind of environment that I grew up in and
felt most comfortable in. By the time Jack came back from the Air Force, I was pretty
much ready to move in to a long-term relationship and something that I could commit to. I had
my dreams for the future and what I saw as something really, really important. So, today
we look back at the history of marriage equality with a certainty of success. In 20/20 hindsight
we can be sure same?sex marriage has prevailed from Massachusetts in 2004 to the Supreme
Court ruling in June of 2015, the Wikipedia version of history is that marriage equality
swept the land with the speed seldom seen in social justice movements. That is certainly
an exciting and hard-won part of the story. But the full story the archival story, our
story of the beginning of the public fight for marriage equality is one you may not know.
Just a quick step back to add some context. We were in our 20s, living in small towns
outside of Norman, Oklahoma when we met our story together began, when a friend introduced
to a party in 1966. Cruise was his name, he told me, trust me, you two are destined for
each other. I rolled my eyes and thought, he is at it again, he is trying to fix me
up. Eventually after dating for six months Jack suggested we move in together. When Jack
proposed I was delighted that the man I adored wanted to make a commitment to me. I happily
accepted Jack’s proposal but on one condition, I told him that all of the McConnell kids
had been raised by mom and dad to — mom and dad to believe we are as good as anybody else.
Any man who wanted to spend his life with me had to accept that as well. I agreed to
be his lover, but he had to agree to be married to me fully and legally in every sense of
that word. Jack was naturally surprised, whoever heard in 1967 of gay men having a legal marriage.
But he was already intrigued. Jack’s reply, well, looks like I am going to be going to
law school. That night he decided to apply for law school to see how he could make my
dream come true. That’s when Jack and I began our journey as marriage equality advocates.
To appreciate the ground breaking context of our story, it’s important to remember the
world as it was in 1967. In some ways and in some places in this country that world
still exists, even today. But in 1967 homosexuality was a mental illness. Sodomy was a criminal
act in 49 states, and it was legal to discriminate against homosexuals in employment, housing,
accommodations, and any other way that you could imagine. In short, you could be evicted,
fired, arrested, jailed, declared mentally ill and institutionalized for just loving
someone of the same gender. Many lived in fear. Many lived in shame and guilt about
who they were and who they loved. And yet, somehow Jack and I dared to dream of marriage,
a full and absolute equality. After we both graduated with our master’s degrees, we moved
to Lawrence Kansas. That was halfway between our two jobs, Jack was DuPont Corporation
out of Topeka, Kansas. Mine, a private college suburban Kansas City to the east. A little
over a year later by 1970 Jack was a first-year law student at the University of Minnesota.
He was also active in FREE, which was a student organization for gay students.
He had become its president. I was finishing out the second year of my two-year contract
as a librarian in Kansas City and looking for a job in Minnesota. During that year of
separation, our letters were the exchanges of any lovers. I would send Jack multiple-page
letters about my hopes, my fears and my feelings. Jack would reply with short postcards. I miss
you. I love you. Don’t forget to renew the car tabs.
(LAUGHTER)>>During that year of celebration — or separation,
our letters were exchanges of any lovers. Jack would send multiple — Jack wrote a longer
letter a little later about — about his experience of separation from me. I want to read a little
bit from that. “The more I thought about you and our relationship the more I realized how
society had kept me from really enjoying life by forcing a double life on me. It was because
of you that I decided to unmask completely and demand respect. I haven’t regretted that
decision, but instead have found a different type of happiness in finding real friends,
and just generally. It gives me tremendous pleasure to talk about
my lover in front of straight people and see them listen attentively. It’s as though I
have seen the sky for the first time.” He closed the letter writing, “some day I promise
we will be together again.” That spring I received a job offer from the University of
Minnesota libraries, and Jack and I planned for our reunification in Minneapolis. During
his first year when Jack was a freshman law student at the University of Minnesota, he
learned in his legal research class the Minnesota statutes on marriage at that particular point
in time did not include language specifying gender. So, on May 18, 1970, just before I
was to begin my job at the University of Minnesota, Jack and I put on suits and ties and went
to the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis to request a marriage license. We made history
when we became the first guy same-sex couple in the United States to apply for a marriage
license. That act changed the course of history. We continued to make history and headlines
when despite setbacks in the courts we changed history again. That was in 1971. When we became
the first same-sex couple to be legally married under a license we received in Blue Earth
County, Minnesota. That was from Mankato City 60 miles south of Minneapolis. On September
3, 1971 with the Blue Earth County license in hand, we were married by the Reverend Roger
Lynn of the United Methodist Church. He continues to call us one of his most successful marriages.
That was 44 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in (inaudible) versus Hodges,
in 2015, that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right. Incidentally, that 2015 ruling contained
a sentence that referred to Baker versus Nelson, the first application that we made in Hennepin
County and Jack took all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. Our application became
world news among those who heard were the members of the board of regents. And an act
that was unprecedented, the board rescinded its job offer to me. When word of our marriage
application was — went public, and the board rescinded that job offer, I enlisted the help
of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union and appealed the regents action in a case Baker
versus Anderson, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court. That meant we had two cases on their
way to the U.S. Supreme Court, our marriage application and my job discrimination case.
Although, it was a clear instance of job discrimination, the high court refused to hear the case from
the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, I was left with no alternative to start my career again.
Three years later, I accepted an entry-level job with the public library system and 37
years later after that, I retired as an administrator from the county library system which became
one of the top library systems in this country. To continue the lawsuits on the denial of
the marriage license application in the county and the withdrawal of the job offer generated
even more publicity. The license we obtained in Mankato, which was granted before officials
realized who we were and that we were two men, stirred the flames still more. Jack and
I were in Look, Life, and Time magazines. We have covered in local and national newspapers
and featured regularly on TV and radio. We appeared on the national TV talk shows
of the time, the Phil Donahue Show and Kennedy and Company in Chicago. This visibility engendered
more letters from around the world and came from the UK. Barbados, Chile, Argentina, Australia
and many other countries. The letters, now more than 45 years old, document the hope
and despair, the anger, the determination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
people. What makes the letter so remarkable is that they provide a window into the lives
of people whose very survival depended on being hidden during those times. But at this
moment, they spoke for themselves. There were letters of support, sometimes with a dollar
or two enclosed, to help us with legal costs. Dozens of letters sought advice including
one from two lesbians in St. Louis. They wrote: If we did go through the ceremony would it
entitle her to use my last name? We read about you and Mike in Look Magazine. It made us
feel proud because it’s the first time we have seen anything about homosexuals printed
in a national magazine. I believe it’s time for the public to accept us.
Another from Tennessee wrote: May I please extend to you each my profound congratulations
upon your recent matrimony and convey my deepest felicitations on a productive life together.
I am a homosexual that live in agony, turmoil and fear every moment of my existence.
This is simply because no one has entered my bleak life. As the two of you found happiness
in each other, maybe one day my need for steady human companionship and compassion shall be
answered. Then there was a quite unique letter of 44 pages handwritten, this was from someone
serving in the marines during the Vietnam war. This last subject is –I am going to
cover, has been on my mind for about four or five years now. It’s something that has
really held my interest. It’s daring. Yet so exciting. It’s the subject of me becoming
a female. A transsexual. I understand it can prove to be fatal, but sometimes, well, most
of the time I feel that even living as a real woman for five years would be almost worth
it. I could literally keep you here for a week reading letters I received. I remember
when I was putting these together for the archives, Jack came downstairs and said what
are you blubbering about? I was crying, not seeing these letters for 45 years, I was transported
back to those times. It reminded me of the pain that so many people endured because of
who they loved. It was so powerful to see those letters.
But I am not going do that, but I am going to say, Jack had a letter from a young gay
activist that I do want to read to you because for us it embodied hope. I am glad you are
trying to form a gay liberation group, as you can see it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s
fun and very satisfying knowing that you are helping to end the senseless oppression of
gay people. I had to — I hate to say this, but as you have found out sometimes those
who will oppose you the most will be gay people themselves.
I explained it away as a fear of the quote, heterosexual backlash. A lot of gay people
have written to us saying we should just be quiet and live by ourselves and not make much
of a big deal of things. I say that if we continue to create publicity that will be
an excuse for the police or others to start a campaign of open oppression. Unfortunately,
I don’t believe that, and I must act according to what I consider to be the betterment of
everyone. The times they are a-changing. We are in the midst of a social revolution. Welcome
aboard. The times have indeed changed. In large part due to the courage and vision
of those who stood tall for full equality. The hundreds of people who wrote letters to
us expressing their dreams to find a way out of the darkness. We always believe the right
to marry was inevitable. The arguments we made first in 1970 are the very arguments
that prevailed in 2015 before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now, with that brief history I presented here what I would like to do is ask Jack to talk
again. I would like for him to talk a little bit about the complicated legal battles and
the strategy surrounding how we got here.>>-Jack Baker: When — when the clerk of court
of Hennepin County refused to issue a license, I found an article in one of the local papers
in which he openly bragged, there is no way even — regardless of what the statute said,
he wasn’t going to issue a marriage license. And so, we had to take him into –into the
local district court and then the local district court upheld what he had done, even though
it was perfectly legal, the statute did allow it. One of the things — the reason that I
know that is, when I — one of the first courses that you are required to take in law school,
is legal research. And so, after I finished that course, I decided to find out if I actually
learned anything, so I went to the law library and read the — the opinion for the marriage
statute, and found that I couldn’t see anywhere in it that it mentioned persons of the same
sex. It –>>Opposite sex.
>>Opposite sex. It mentioned only persons — it just simply mentioned that the two parties.
And one of the other courses that you learn — I learned in law school said that, what’s
not forbidden is permitted under our constitution. And so, if it’s not, that citizens have all
of the rights to be themselves, unless it’s forbidden by statute. And so, if it’s not
forbidden — the statute did not forbid two persons of the same sex to be married — then
it is permitted under the — what I had just learned in one of my courses. And there was
another course, it talked about the equal protection under law that all citizens are
entitled to equal protection under law. So, when you put all of that together, I draw
the — drew the correct conclusion as it turns out that persons — that we have a constitutional
right to get married, to get a license — to get a marriage license, but the clerk of court
decided against that and he didn’t care what the statute said, he wasn’t going to issue
it. We took that into the district court and the district court upheld that and we appealed
to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Which also upheld that by simply saying that, our way
is as old as the Book of Genesis and we are going to uphold his position. At the time
the –the rules of federal court — federal Supreme Court allowed that when the state
interprets the federal constitution you are entitled to a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme
Court. And so, we then appealed that directly to the U.S. Supreme Court and that’s how Baker
versus Nelson actually got there. And the court did not deny our claim, the court just
simply dismissed the claim. It’s a very important distinction. And so, basically the ruling
of the Minnesota Supreme Court was left intact with no opinion rendered by the Minnesota
Supreme Court. And that –>>Federal court.
>>The U.S. Supreme Court, I mean. That remained in effect for the next 40 years. And, basically
what the U.S. Supreme Court was saying is that, now is not the time to answer this question.
We will do it at some point in the future. I didn’t expect that it would take some 40-some
years to do it — to answer the question, but they did do it in 2015. And they answered
the very question that we had posed. Do gay citizens of the United States have a constitutional
right to marry. And the answer was, to me, a second-year law student, to me it was intuitively
obviously, of course it coincided with everything that we had learned — that I had been taught
in my first year of law school. So, at the time when the district court decided not to
— to not overturn the decision of the clerk of court, we knew that this was going to take
some time. And so we decided that the next best alternative to marriage is not quite
the same but the next best alternative to get some of the benefits would be to do an
adoption. And that way you get at least inheritance rights — the right of inheritance and a few
other rights, which I don’t need to go into. We decided that we would go ahead and we would
do an adoption and have Mike adopt me. And even — the statute at the time did not permit
adults to marry, one adult to marry another adult, and that was one of the questions that
was raised by the judge. And the judge who issued the writ, I mean the order, the adoption
order, felt the need to write an opinion: This may sound strange but there is nothing
in the state statute that forbids two adults to adopt each other. So we went through that
process. And during that process my attorney said that, are you aware that you can change
— in an adoption proceedings you can change the name of the child? I did not know that.
Being a law student, and this was not part of the plan, but since the attorney pointed
it out, I said certainly let’s go ahead and change the name. That’s when we decided that
we would go ahead and change my name to Patrick McConnell to match it up with Mike’s name
and his family. So we asked the judge to include that in the order. It was included in the
order, and so there was a legal name change approved by a court and we were entitled under
the statute to have a license because the statute said that you could have it, it was
not forbidden by law. So, we just decided that we would go down to another county, 60
miles south, Blue Earth County, and set up residency according to statute and then apply
for that license. And that’s what we did. Mike went in, applied, the clerk of court
then waited the 7-day limit I believe it is, whatever the limit is to do due diligence.
And the assumption was that the clerk of court did the due diligence, and the clerk of court
then issued a license under the seal of the court. And so, it was a very lawfully issued
and a legal license that was issued. And then we — as Mike pointed out, we had the Reverend
Roger Lynn validate the license in a valid ceremony. So, that’s why we went — that’s
why we became the first legally recognized marriage
in this country. The clerk to our — we did not know that the
clerk then after all of the paperwork was filed back with the clerk of court, in Blue
Earth County. We did not know for about 40 years that the clerk just simply refused to
record the license. We assumed that we went through the steps, we got the license, we
issued — returned the paperwork, and the statute said that the clerk is under an obligation
to record the marriage records, and that a failure to — to record a marriage record
is a $10 fine. So we just assumed that the clerk would issue — would record the document.
The clerk just refused to record it after that. And we have only recently learned that
those paperwork — that paperwork is not recorded, so we are in the process now of rectifying
that and that’s a case that is a work in progress. And that may actually be another case that
ends up in federal court. We hope not but it may. And so, this is still not over. We
followed all of the rules of the court under the rules of the statute. And we went through
that. We have got — waited 40 years and had the U.S. Supreme Court agree that we were
correct. Everything we did was correct and legally. And it was our constitutional right
to get the license in the first place. It was legally issued. But it still remains unrecorded.
And so, it’s one of those things that if you don’t stand up and defend yourself, no one
else will either. And so, we are in the process of just simply continuing that process it
seems to be never ending, but we are not going to give up until we have everything set and
done the way it is — we are entitled to according to law.
>>Michael McConnell: As you may have determined, we are pretty persistent people.
(LAUGHTER)>>We don’t give up easily. Especially concerning
our rights. I took to heart what my parents taught me as a young man, that you are as
good as anyone else. I believe the constitution when it says we are all equal. One of the
things that often got us into trouble in our gay activist years was that we refused to
take less than full equality when people were negotiating for various rights, whatever the
bullies in power decided they were willing to give you at the time, was not good enough
for us. We absolutely would refuse anything less than
the same equality that all other citizens had. So, we have always stood for that, and
we — that got us into some trouble over the years. But as you can see we discovered
now very late in our life that — that clerk refused to do what the law required the clerk
to do. So, we will address that issue. We have our own law firm to deal with the — these
folks. And as Social Security and other government agencies deal with our request and our valid
certificate of marriage, we will make sure that all of the T’s are crossed and the I’s
dotted so — this year we celebrated the 49th anniversary of our commitment to one another.
That was in 1967 when we committed. And we celebrated our 45th year of legal marriage
on September 3 of 2016, just last month. All of this history, our history, is now a personal
history that is included over 50 years of materials collected over the years, now over
70,000 pages of documents and letters and other instruments over 400 photos, videos
and other multimedia productions as well as countless artifacts.
These documents, our marriage equality fight, and our fight for the full civil rights for
LGBTQ people. And endless other issues of vconcern to all of us making sure young kids
who are growing up are supported and loved, and that older adults have a safe and welcoming
retirement. The collection in LGBTQ studies at the University of Minnesota houses our
collection of personal documents, that collection is now over 10 million pages of documents
in 50 languages. It’s an amazing array of artifacts, and items that document Minnesota
and upper midwest U.S. history, which most people know little to nothing about. Believe
it or not, Minnesota was a hot bed in the heart of the country when the early gay rights
movement took on its most militant behaviors in the late ’60s and early ’70s, that history
is now documented in the collections at the treader. So, why after 45 years did we decide
to write our memoir? Why not — if we had this stuff and knew this 45 years ago, why
didn’t we write the history sooner than this year for release? Well, with the push for
marriage equality in more recent years histories that left out the true beginning of the fight
for marriage equality were being written. We felt it was now time to tell the true,
complete story of where it all began. Our vision, legal marriage for same-sex couples
guided the gay agenda sometimes hidden in the background for 44 years. Nonetheless it
was an issue during at least four presidential campaigns and still continues to be a huge
national issue. Our vision has impacted other countries as well. This concept has generated
powerful thought current that continue to sweep and transform the planet. In our lifetime
we have witnessed same-sex marriage become a reality in country after country. That transformation
of this world into a fairer, kinder place continues to this day.
We watch with pleasure as kindred spirits around the globe at least acknowledged what
we have always known ourselves, love is the strongest force in the universe.
The commitment of two people to care for each other is a beautiful, valuable part of being
human. It’s a fundamental right of all people. We have simply wanted to tell that story in
our own words as supported by the historical record. Now, to close out here, I just want
to read something from the last chapter of the book.
“Nearly 43 years to the day after Jack and I applied for our marriage license in Hennepin
County justice prevailed, our state, Minnesota, became the 12th state to legalize marriage
for all lovers on May 13, 2013. I was there to witness the historic vote in the state
senate. That was almost to the day that we applied for our marriage license on May 18,
1970. Looking back, I am proud that Jack and I were in the first. But when we were married,
gay — gay marriage was a revolutionary idea. Today marriage equality seems like the most
reasonable of notions. Of course gay men and women deserve the right to marry legally,
officially, in front of our families and friends, officials and ministers. Of course because
it’s our country. And, yes, in the downhome words of Mike McConnell, we are all as good
as anybody else.” A final reminder, we cannot forget that the
fight for LGBTQ rights is far from over. Recent hate and violence directed at us tells us
we must remain strong in resolution. We must never forget love is the most powerful force
in the universe, hate will never win over love. Now, we would like to open it up for
questions. If you have questions, two microphones, please ask questions. Believe me, over 45
years there isn’t a question that you can ask that will embarrass us.
(LAUGHTER)>>Yes?
>>I just want to personally thank you for your leadership. I myself have been a gay
activist since the early 1970s, in fact in 1975 Frank Kameny and I testified on behalf
of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. Out of personal
curiosity, did you have interactions with Frank Kameny, that he was fired from the civil
service in the 1950’s for being gay and he lost his case before the Supreme Court as
well. Just wonder if you had any interactions with him? I am curious if you had. Another
good friend of mine, a giant, Steven Dean who came from Minnesota and came to Washington
in the 70s as the first director of the human rights campaign. Any stories to share with
Frank or Steven?>>Absolutely. First Frank Kameny, Frank was
the one who set up the arrangement — arranged the — to have an attorney at the American
Civil Liberties Union to do –to take against the airforce for to get my — reinstate my honorable
discharge.>>Yes. We knew Frank for many years, quite
frankly there’s a lot of correspondence in our papers with Frank. We first met him in
1968 in Kansas City when the North American homophile conference was held. That was where
we met him, and Jack connected with him about taking on the Air Force over his honorable
discharge. And over the years, we corresponded with him and worked with him on many issues.
When the American Psychiatric Association was under assault for its, shall we say, anti
diluvian belief about gays as mentally ill, Jack worked with him and others on those issues
and testified. And then one year when Jack was student body president, student body presidents
across the U.S. were here in DC for a meeting, we were here and I stayed at Frank’s home
during that time, and spent a little time with him. Over the years we interacted with
— with Frank a great deal. We knew him and admired him tremendously and appreciated the
work he did at the same time we were working. Steven Dean I knew quite well. Steve came
to one of the first FREE meetings, the campus group Jack was president of at the time he
was a — he was closeted. And was a driver for Wendell Anderson running for governor
of the state of Minnesota eventually elected. He was elected, quite frankly, because we
organized as gay people in the democratic party in Minnesota and got a lot of vote out.
They took over not only the governor’s office, the senate and legislature. I spent many hours
talking with Steve with gay liberation. He formed like many others in Minneapolis at
the time he worked with others out of Gay House, which was one of the first gay community
centers in the country to start forming gay political organizations. Minnesota committee
for gay and lesbian rights is a group Steve formed and worked on issues for a number of
issues in Minnesota. As Minnesota passed rights and protected gay people, Steve decided to
leave Minnesota and move to Washington, DC where he began HRC, and the story goes on
from there. We were all very troubled. As I said, we got into a lot of trouble when
we — when we stood for full and absolute equality, no exceptions, no excuses. When
it came to gay civil rights we believe we had to be treated exactly the same. And when
Steve was working with MCGLR, that group was the — was negotiating with people in the
legislature and seemed ready to negotiate for less than full rights. That didn’t set well
with us. And so we created quite a stink. So, let me just say that in the community
in the city there were now warring camps. Our view of full and absolute equality and
others who were willing to take what they could get or go slow, we were not willing
to do that. Eventually, though, Steve did move to DC and formed HRC, that’s become one
of the, if not the leading national organization.>>You quoted a number of the letters, and
obviously the ones that were in support were inspiring reaffirming. I presume the overwhelming
majority of letters that you actually got were probably anti gay people reacted —
>>Surprisingly, no. Surprisingly I would say out of the thousands, literally thousands
of letters from all around the planet, maybe 50 were negative.
>>Wow.>>And most of them were totally irrational
like: You faggot rats, you should be in Hell. Most of them were that kind of thing. A few
had reasoned discourse, but otherwise, no. They were overwhelming positive. And most
of them were from many young gay people who were just so thrilled to see finally someone
who could represent how they truly felt. A couple who was willing to stand for the kinds
of things that they believed.>>Most of the questions were from, as Mike
points out, young adults who were asking basically the question: How do I find “Mr. or Miss Right”?
That’s why the book is aimed at young adults. It’s not aimed at our peers. It’s aimed at
a younger or lower audience. And it tries to address that question of how do I — how
do I find Mr. or Miss Right.>>Do you think the response would have been
different in the day of the Internet where every whacko feels inclined to send out an
E-mail?>>Frankly, I don’t think the whackos were
shy in those days, when we gave lectures and talked face-to-face to 5,000 people in Minnesota,
giving lectures all around the state, and Canada and across the country. What we found
consistently was that, a number — in some cases we were doing surveys, tell us what
you thought of the lecture and what questions that you had what could we improve that sort
of thing. It was literally everywhere we went, how ever small the town, towns of 500 people,
for example, when those came back, 90% literally said, interesting, I just had questions, just
wanted to know, good for you guys. 10% would say: Can’t buy this on any level, sorry. My
religion forbids it. That was the response we got most. And most of the hate stuff that
came to us was really based on religion. It was always cited religious sources for their
hate.>>Next question?
>>Hi. Thanks very much for sharing the story. I am a journalist and I am writing an article
about the history of gay bars.>>Speak into the mic.
>>Is that better?>>Yes
>>I am writing an article about the history of gay bars around the world and the role
that they have played for gay people.>>Yes.
>>One of the roles they played in certain cities and certain countries is they have
been places where activists have met and obviously there are places where people have fallen
in love as well. I was wondering whether bars played any role in your story either as places
where you gave talks, or places where you socialized with people, whether bars — bars
and gay pubs at all came anywhere into the story.
>>Yes, bars. Bars certainly played a role. People talk about black churches as the place
of gathering for communities and awareness. The same is true, I think even today, for
certain parts of the community, a very important part of that social kind of connectedness
and the exchange of ideas. It was true in our time as well. Perhaps even more so than
before the time. For example, when I worked with John Preston to form Gay House, which
was a gay community center there became other focal points in communities where people could
go who weren’t oriented to bars or alcohol was an issue or any number of things. But,
yes, and even today I am thinking of a bar in Minneapolis is that — that is really activist
still today. They often have people in, and they have a pretty in?your?face kind of attitude
about presenting gay life in a positive — positive way. It’s called Lush. It’s a neat place.
People go and have taco Tuesdays and you meet and go and see political people and you see
people from the faith community and all of that. So, yes, bars play a part. And I think
still do but there are many other options for those who don’t want to partake of that.
In Minneapolis we have a public privately nonprofit organization called Quatrefoil Library,
it’s a circulating library on gay history and materials that you can just check out
just like a public library, supported by donations and volunteers, and it’s celebrating its 30th
year. There are many other things that people can use as connections in the community.
>>Okay. I think we are kind of at the end of our time. Thank you all so much for coming.
And — (APPLAUSE)
>>Thank you. (APPLAUSE)
>>If you are — if you are interested, Jack and I have our trusty little pens and we are
happy to autograph copies of our book for you if you would like to do that.

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