On May 13, 2013, when the Minnesota Senate cleared the last hurdle to same-sex marriage in the state, Michael McConnell was watching the vote from Senate chambers with a special sense of pride.
Forty-three years earlier, almost to the day, McConnell and his lover, Jack Baker, had set off a legal and media furor when they appeared at the Hennepin County Courthouse to apply for a marriage license.
"The Wedding Heard 'Round the World" is a first-person account — "our story in our words" — of the couple's two-year fight to marry, a case they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It also limns their relationship, the campus activism of the 1970s and their fight against a system that was very much stacked against them.
When Baker and McConnell met at a party in Norman, Okla., in 1966, most gay men and lesbians led deeply closeted lives. Police harassment was routine, and public exposure could cost people "everything — their livelihoods, their standing in the community or church, their relationship with their family and their friends," McConnell says in the book.
Such reactions sent many deeper into the closet. But they led McConnell and Baker in another direction. As their relationship grew more serious, and Baker decided to challenge a less-than-honorable Air Force discharge, he began seeking legal options to fight back.
In 1969, he moved to the Twin Cities to attend law school at the University of Minnesota. He became president of the gay student group FREE and pushed to raise its profile. McConnell joined him a year later, and they applied for their Hennepin County marriage license on May 18, 1970.
The media attention caused the U's Board of Regents to take the rare step of rescinding a job offer McConnell had received from the U library system. Hiring him, one regent said in an interview with the Minnesota Daily, the U's student newspaper, "would enrage 90 percent of the people in the state."
When Baker was elected as the first openly gay student body president at the U the next year, the couple's notoriety grew, and national programs like Phil Donohue's show came calling.
Meanwhile, they filed a flurry of legal motions, attempting to marry in another county while appealing the rejection of their Hennepin County marriage license and McConnell's job case to the Supreme Court.
By fall 1972, the couple's legal appeals were exhausted. The Supreme Court refused to take up McConnell's job discrimination case. It also rejected Baker v. Nelson, their marriage case, in a decision that would stand as precedent for more than 40 years.
A book of its own could be written on the gay-rights activism at the U and in the Twin Cities in the early 1970s, and later chapters of the book help paint a picture of the politics and ferment of the time.
But the memoir here also shows its limits, with a narrow focus on the activism that directly involved Baker or McConnell and jabs at one local political figure the couple felt was too closeted.
As a national gay rights movement began to gain steam in the late 1970s, Baker and McConnell had largely stepped out of the spotlight.
But their case wasn't forgotten. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, its ruling said, "Baker v. Nelson must be and is now overruled."
Trisha Collopy is a Star Tribune copy editor.