Baehr v. Miike
Same Sex Marriages
In December of 1990, three couples living in Honolulu, Hawaii applied for marriage licenses. But these were no ordinary couples. Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel were both women; so too were Tammy Rodrigues and Antoinette Pregil--and the third couple, Pat Lagon and Joseph Melillo, were both men. The state department of health denied their applications, citing Hawaii Revised Statute 572-1, which according to the department implicitly defines a legally binding marriage as one between a man and a woman. The three couples filed suit against the state, naming John Lewin, then director of the department, as defendant. The case thus began its life as Baehr v. Lewin, but in the course of its long legal existence Baehr was replaced by Lawrence H. Miike, and the case was accordingly renamed as Baehr v. Miike on 23 April 1996. In any event, Miike was no more the target of this suit than had been Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade in Roe v. Wade. In both instances, it was not the men themselves who were under challenge, but the laws which they upheld through their offices.
Under Hawaii law, the case went to a state circuit court. That court dismissed the suit in October of 1991, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The suit charged that the department's application of 572-1 violated the plaintiffs' rights under both the Right to Privacy and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Hawaii Constitution. The high court struck down the first of these challenges, but agreed with the plaintiffs on the second. "[B]y its plain language," the court held, "the Hawaii Constitution prohibits state-sanctioned discrimination against any person in the exercise of his or her civil rights on the basis of sex." The court held that 572-1 presented a sex-based classification--which was prohibited under the Hawaii Equal Protection Clause--rather than a classification with regard to homosexuality, which was not specifically addressed in the clause. Perhaps it was true that society defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, the court suggested, but until the Supreme Court struck it down in Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1967), that Southern state had in place a law which held marriage between people of different races to be unnatural. If a race-based classification could be invalidated, so too could a gender-based rule.
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