Minnesota same-sex marriage case began the legal journey 45 years ago

In 1970, University of Minnesota student Jack Baker tried unsuccessfully to get a marriage license in Hennepin County. He wanted to marry another man.

Although that was 45 years ago, Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick says in a Star Tribune commentary that the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court deliberations on gay marriage can be traced back to the Baker’s legal challenge in the case.

Writes Tanick:

A Hennepin County district judge dismissed the [Baker] lawsuit on grounds that state marriage law at the time limited lawful unions to couples of opposite genders. The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld that determination, prodded by an impassioned plea from the Hennepin County attorney’s office, which defended the clerk’s action, warning the justices of the “extreme and unresolveable difficulty” that would ensue if they were to “undermine the law of the Creator.”

A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, saying: “The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.”

Flash forward to the upcoming Supreme Court oral arguments on same-sex marriage. Tanick writes:

The Baker case will undoubtedly be at or near the epicenter of the arguments to be made by the respective parties on April 28.

And he writes:

The litigation now before the Supreme Court comes at time when same-sex marriage equality is no longer the laughingstock it was at the time the Baker case was moving through the Minnesota judicial system. About 31 states and the District of Columbia, encompassing close to 80 percent of the population of the United States, now allow same-sex marriages. Public opinion polls, which hovered at about one-third support for gay marriage as recently as five years ago, have flipped, particularly among younger people. A slim but growing majority of the total public now supports gay marriages, with an astonishing 80 percent of those 18-29 voicing approval, has been a long and difficult road for supporters of same-sex marriage. While the original claimants did not have a prayer, most savants, even some who deride the concept, anticipate that the Supreme Court may very well invalidate the prohibition remaining in effect in the 13 states that still forbid same-sex marriages. They expect the justices to give a favorable answer to the prayers of those who have, in the wake of Baker, been waiting for 45 years.

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