America’s first gay marriage.
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
You always thought there would be a picket fence in your future. You could just picture it: charming spouse, 2.5 kids, minivan, Cape Cod with manicured lawn, birthday parties on the patio, all surrounded by that picket fence. It was a perfect dream of a blissful life. And, as in The Wedding Heard ’Round the World, making history would be a nice bonus.
As a child playing with neighborhood girls, Michael McConnell remembers wanting the same thing they wanted: to grow up and marry a handsome man. Their crushes were his crushes, too, but in the 1950s, that kind of thing wasn’t discussed.
By the time he entered college at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-’60s, however, McConnell had come out to his family and was comfortable with his sexuality. He met other gay men and enjoyed an active social life on campus. And then, on October 29, 1966, he met Jack Baker.
For the first minutes of their get-to-know-you, McConnell thought Baker was much older, or perhaps straight. Baker’s demeanor was businesslike, almost military in mien; McConnell had recently had his heart broken, and was guarded. Still, by the end of the evening, they were in love; soon after, they were a couple.
By the early ’70s, though their relationship had to be kept quieter, McConnell and Baker were “out” enough to want to advance LGBT civil rights. Baker, a Minneapolis law student, filed suit against the U.S. Air Force over an unfair downgrade in his discharge status. After following Baker north, McConnell fought job discrimination. And then there was the wedding Baker promised McConnell on Baker’s 25th birthday. It would happen—they just had to figure out how.
That would take some time, but Baker was on it. With his legal training tickling his methodical mind, he discovered two loopholes in Minnesota state marriage law that had not yet been closed. One thing led to the next, and culminated in their history-making wedding in 1971.
That, of course, isn’t the end of their story. Authors Michael McConnell and Jack Baker continued their activism, but their nuptials—the first in America for same-sex celebrants—are the real focus in The Wedding Heard ’Round the World.
And that’s a good thing, too, because the love story in this book is what makes it so readable. McConnell’s account (as told to Gail Langer Karwoski) is mostly what’s here, and it’s the quintessential romance: boy meets boy, boy marries boy, they live happily (almost) ever after.
Conversely, it’s the almost that makes this book so important: the battles that the authors fought caused emotional hardship in many ways, almost resulting in a breakup. And yet, for the sake of others who came after them, they continued to take on gay rights issues—stories of which are told humbly, yet proudly.
Overall, this is a sweet story wrapped inside a righteous fight, told with charm and grace. It’s deep, yet lighthearted and definitely worth a look. Start The Wedding Heard ’Round the World—and you’ll have no defense.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.