Jack Baker (born Richard John Baker, 1942) is an early LGBT activist in the state of Minnesota. He is known for being a founding officer of the first LGBT student group in America and the first openly gay person elected as student body president of a major university. He and his partner, James Michael McConnell, were the first American gay couple to seek a marriage license and the first gay couple to establish a legal relationship via adult adoption.
On May 18, 1969, (pre-Stonewall), the group Fight Repression of Erotic Expression (FREE), was founded at the University of Minnesota. This was the first LGBT student organization in the USA. Its successor continues today, as the Queer Student Cultural Center, still an officially recognized student group. Baker was an original officer in the organization.
In 1971, Baker ran for President of the student body at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. He won the election, and became the first openly gay person elected as student body president at any major university. This was probably also the first time an openly gay person had won any elected public office in the USA. His campaign was helped by a poster which showed a full-length photo of Baker in a conservative 3-piece suit but with ladies high-heeled pumps, with the slogan "Put Yourself in Jack Baker's Shoes". This was widely distributed on campus, and attracted a lot of attention. Many copies were stolen, only to reappear in dorm rooms, and later offered for sale. (A copy of this poster is in the archives of the Tretter Collection of the University Library.)
Baker was re-elected easily in 1972, something no other U of M student body president had ever done. Baker's sexual orientation was not a major issue in this campaign, it was mainly about campus issues. As student body president, Baker had persuaded the Regents to allow students to sit on governing committees, and to start a student-run bookstore. He had also proposed that the University purchase a local FM radio station, and build student-owned and operated apartments. He campaigned on the need to complete these projects, and won 43% of the vote in a 9-way race.
On May 18, 1970 Baker & McConnell applied for a marriage license as a gay couple in Hennepin County, Minnesota. This is apparently the first attempted gay marriage in the United States. The Clerk of Court denied them a license. They sued and lost in District Court, appealed and lost in the Minnesota Supreme Court, and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed the case for want of a substantial federal question. The case opinion, Baker v. Nelson, has been frequently cited as precedent in various gay marriage cases since then.
Later in 1971, the couple applied for and were awarded a marriage license in Blue Earth County, Mankato, and were married before a Methodist minister (Rev. Roger Lynn) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They maintain that they are legally married under this license; the government claims that the Supreme Court ruling automatically makes this marriage license null and void. During the early 1970s, they filed joint tax returns, which were accepted by the IRS. In 2004, after passage of Defense of Marriage Act, their joint tax return was rejected, and they filed suit against the IRS.
In June 1972, at the State Convention of the DFL (Democratic) party, Baker and other GLBT delegates persuaded the Convention to adopt a Party platform plank supporting equal marriage rights for all adults. This is believed to be the first support for gay marriage by any major USA political party.
Gay adult adoptionEdit
In an attempt to obtain legal recognition of their relationship and protect their rights, they sought to have McConnell legally adopt Baker. In August, 1971, this adult adoption was approved in Hennepin County. Under the adoption decree, Baker was given the name Pat Lyn McConnell (though he has not used that name since then, continuing to use his birth name). This is believed to be the first adult adoption between an openly gay couple. After the adoption, the couple discovered that besides inheritance rights, this entitled them to decreased tuition (family resident rates) at the University of Minnesota, where they were both students at the time.
Judicial election candidacyEdit
In 2002, he ran as a candidate for Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. He lost to incumbent Paul H. Anderson. Baker won 31% of the vote, the highest vote total a challenger has ever received. (No challenger has ever defeated an incumbent Minnesota Supreme Court Justice in a reelection bid.) Anderson spent $88,000 on his re-election campaign; Baker spent less than $100 on his campaign
They are still a couple, and continue to live in their home in South Minneapolis. McConnell is retired from his job as librarian at Hennepin County, and Baker is largely retired from his corporate law practice. He is active in the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, and writes occasional articles for local newspapers.