Barack Obama was the first sitting president to voice his support for marriage equality, but the first-ever same-sex marriage in the world might have occurred during Richard Nixon’s administration.
Michael and Jack McConnell, whose marriage was officially recognized last year, received a marriage license in Minnesota in 1971 — more than three decades before states started legalizing same-sex unions in 2004.
The pair took advantage of a loophole when Jack, whose last name at birth was Baker, changed his first name to a more gender-neutral name, “Pat Lyn,” before they submitted their application. The couple believed that the marriage would be valid in any event because Minnesota did not explicitly ban same-sex marriage.
Yet, the attorney for Blue Earth County, where they obtained their license, soon found out Pat Lyn was a man and directed the clerk against recording the marriage, leaving the couple without proof to obtain Social Security and other benefits provided to married couples.
Even after Minnesota secured marriage equality in 2013 — and after it became etched into the nation’s law in 2015 — the duo was still mired in a decades-long legal battle over the legitimacy of their 1971 union. A district court judge finally ruled in September of last year that their marriage was valid, and on February 15 of this year the couple received a letter from the Social Security Administration notifying them they were able to start receiving spousal benefits.
The couple was recently profiled by NBC News, but also wrote about their marriage journey in their 2016 memoir, “The Wedding Heard ’Round the World.” The book details the challenges they faced while trying to get married: the University of Minnesota pulled a job offer extended to Michael and yet they were not making progress in actually having their marriage legally recognized. The couple had first tried unsuccessfully to obtain a marriage license in nearby Hennepin County, and they were rejected when they appealed the denial there to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The couple next appealed the Minnesota ruling to the US Supreme Court, and although their case was ultimately dismissed, they suffered no adverse ruling from the high court. That gave the men some hope for the future.
“They simply dismissed the case for ‘want of a substantial federal question,’ which basically means they [would decide] at some later date,” Jack told NBC News in 2016. “I did not realize that later date would be some 45 years later.”
Fast forward to 2019. The couple can now make fair claim to being the first same-sex couple in the world to have a recorded marriage. They will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary in September.