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LGBTQ History, 1971: America Gets Its First Look at ‘The Homosexual Couple’

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It was in January of 1971 that Look magazine caused jaws to drop around the country. In an issue on “The American Family,” the magazine devoted an entire feature to “The Homosexual Couple.” (In what may have been a bit of an in-joke, the article appeared on page 69.)

jack baker, mike mcconnnell, marriage equality, gay marriage, lgbt history

How They Met

The couple’s names were Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, and they remain together all these decades later. The two men met in 1967—years before the American Psychological Association de-listed homosexuality as a mental illness—and fell for each other. But Michael wanted them to live openly and honestly: “If we’re going to do this,” he told Jack when they moved in together, “you have to find a way for us to get married.”

So they tried to get a marriage license. In 1970, they were turned down by Hennepin County, Minnesota. That triggered a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in a ruling that marriage between same-sex couples was of no interest to federal law. The ruling essentially closed the book on any further federal challenges to marriage bans for decades.

(Ultimately, of course, the Supreme Court would correct that decision in 2015, legalizing marriage nationwide under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.)

Finding a Way Forward

Defeated, the couple didn’t give up. Michael legally adopted Jack, and then Jack changed his legal first name to Pat. Because of the new gender-neutral name, the couple was able to submit a marriage license to a clerk who didn’t realize they were both men—and so, they announced, they were legally married at last.

Government officials were horrified when they realized what had happened, and a flurry of arguments and hearings followed. To this day, the couple insists they have been married since 1971, and according to the National Archives, the marriage license has never been revoked, so it may still be valid. But on the other hand, the couple was denied the ability to file a joint tax return or file for veteran’s benefits.

Refusing to Back Down

Now that marriage is explicitly legal, the couple has chosen not to file for a new marriage license. “To re-apply now becomes an admission that what we did was not legal, and I will never admit that,” Jack told the New York Times.

Their lives are quieter now; Michael worked as a librarian for years, though he was hounded by hostile employers who objected to homosexuality at the start of his career. They seldom give interviews, and their days of activism are mostly behind them—though they did write a memoir in 2015.

That January 1971 Look article remains an important milestone in the LGBT movement—a mainstream publication referring to a queer couple as a “family” was unheard of at the time. “Just like being married,” the magazine wrote, decades before the rest of the country would catch up.

(Featured image by Jonathunder, used under the GFDL 1.2 License.)