Book review: The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage, by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker, as told to Gail Langer Karwoski

McConnell WeddingMcConnell, Michael with Jack Baker, as told to Gail Langer Karwoski. The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage. University of Minnesota Press. 2016. 200 p. HC. $22.95. ISBN 978-0-8166-9926-1.

When I was an undergraduate at St. Paul, Minnesota’s Hamline University in the early 1970s, I attended a campus lecture featuring two rather notorious speakers: Jack Baker and Mike McConnell, who had recently married each other. At that point, they may have been the first self-declared homosexuals I’d ever seen up close and personal. Had I known what the ensuing decades would bring for all of us, I would have better appreciated being in the presence of living history that night.

McConnell has now shared their story, an especially timely one in light of 2015’s momentous Supreme Court ruling. On September 3, 1971, he and Baker exchanged vows, legally, in Minneapolis. Their road to that moment was long, winding, and eventful.

At the time of their marriage, made possible via a fortuitous legal loophole, they were already local gay rights crusaders. Lawyer-to-be Jack had been elected University of Minnesota student body president—the first openly gay person holding such a position anywhere in America, thus making national headlines. And Mike was instrumental in forming a campus “Gay House,” providing services and support for the University’s LGBT population.

McConnell was also a technical services librarian with a University job offer. But once his and Jack’s ceremony became common knowledge, that offer was rescinded, leading Mike to a job discrimination court case, in tandem with the couple’s lingering battles over the maybe-not-so-legal marriage.

Their cases’ twists and turns are slightly hard to absorb at times. Eventually, however, the men were allowed to remain married, and Mike was able to resume his library career. Through it all, their determination to stay true to the LGBT rights cause—and most importantly, to each other—remained immutable.

Forty-four years later, the couple still resides in Minneapolis, and recently donated their personal papers and memorabilia to the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the same University of Minnesota where their tumultuous saga began. The irony is telling to all concerned.

This book is recommended for all LGBT-related and general history collections, and especially for readers with Minnesota ties and memories. While we can all justifiably laud 2015’s same-sex marriage Final Answer, we should also save a round of applause for Baker and McConnell, who helped forge the way.

Cathy Ritchie
Acquisitions/Selection Services
Dallas (TX) Public Library

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