Michael McConnell imposed a seemingly insurmountable condition when boyfriend Jack Baker proposed to him more than 50 years ago — their marriage had to be legal.
This was decades before the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, but that didn't stop the couple from finding a way. They will celebrate the 50th anniversary this year of what is believed to be the longest legal same-sex marriage in American history.
"Everyone thought it was impossible and illegal, and we proved that it was not only not illegal, but it was not impossible," Baker told Joe Fryer on TODAY Wednesday as the nation marks Pride Month.
Baker was so determined to fulfill McConnell's request that he went to law school in the late 1960s to study how the couple could find a way to get legally married while living in Minnesota.
"The marriage statute in Minnesota, I found that there was nothing in there that said we couldn't get married," Baker said.
They were initially denied a marriage license in Hennepin County, so they came up with a plan. Baker legally changed his name to the gender-neutral "Pat Lyn," and McConnell used the name for a marriage license in a different county. It was approved.
The couple quickly tied the knot in a small ceremony in 1971 complete with rings, vows and a three-tiered cake with two plastic grooms on top that were snapped off from traditional bride-and-groom decorations. A Methodist pastor officiated the ceremony.
"We prevailed, and I'm quite happy about that," Baker said.
"Our idea was transformative, and it continues to transform the planet to this day," McConnell said.
Their love story is now the subject of an illustrated children's book called "Two Grooms on a Cake: The Story of America's First Gay Wedding."
"It's one of those intriguing, almost like a made-for-TV movie kind of story, because here's two guys doing the improbable, overcoming obstacles, being told no, but persevering," the book's author, Rob Sanders, said on TODAY.
Their love story began in the 1960s when they met at a party while both attending the University of Oklahoma. Baker proposed six months later.
"And I said, 'Well, I'll commit on one condition: You have to find a way for us to get legally married,'" McConnell said. "And he said, 'Well, looks like I'm gonna have to go to law school.'"
Even though Baker found a way to get them a marriage license in 1971, the county refused to record their marriage, which meant they could not receive spousal benefits.
Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, which meant the couple could just apply for a new marriage license at that time. However, rather than reapply, they wanted the state to recognize their 1971 marriage, which finally happened in 2018 when a judge ruled it was valid.
During all their years of fighting for LGBTQ rights, they have always been guided by two principles.
"The first is full and absolute equality for all people, no exceptions, no excuses," McConnell said. "Our second one: Love is the most powerful force in the universe. It can and does transform everything."